SINGAPORE: Smartphone screens - and other parts of electronic devices - could soon mend themselves, after the development of a material which can stitch itself back together within one day by a team of scientists in the United States.
Researchers from the University of California, Riverside, have developed a stretchable, transparent material which can not only heal itself, but also stretch up to 50 times its normal size - meaning it could potentially fix a phone battery if it cracks, or even prevent it from breaking in the first place.
The team presented their findings on Wednesday (Apr 5) at the 253rd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
"When I was young, my idol was Wolverine from the X-Men," researcher Chao Wang told Science Daily. "He could save the world, but only because he could heal himself. A self-healing material, when carved into two parts, can go back together like nothing has happened, just like our human skin."
Wang added that he was researching making a self-healing lithium ion battery - "so when you drop your cell phone, it could fix itself and last much longer".
Not only can the material heal itself, it can also conduct ions to generate current (a property needed for touchscreens) making it unique among self-healing polymers.
"Most self-healing polymers form hydrogen bonds or metal-ligand coordination, but these aren't suitable for ionic conductors," Wang told Science Daily. Instead, his team turned to an "ion-dipole interaction" which had never previously been used for designing such self-healing materials.
For the next step, the team is working on improving the material so that it can be used in harsh conditions such as in high humidity.
"Previous self-healing polymers haven't worked well in high humidity," Wang told Science Daily. "Water gets in there and messes things up. It can change the mechanical properties. We are currently tweaking the covalent bonds within the polymer itself to get these materials ready for real-world applications."