Gizmag regulars will be well-used to the idea of self-healing materials, and even materials that repair themselves when exposed to light; but a new plastic demonstrated to the American Chemical Society on Monday purports to be the first self-healing material to incorporate a damage-reporting mechanism, almost akin to the bleeding of human skin.
"Our new plastic tries to mimic nature, issuing a red signal when damaged and then renewing itself when exposed to visible light, temperature or pH changes," said Professor Marek W. Urban, Ph.D of the University of Southern Mississippi.
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Urban's plastic contains molecular bridges that span the polymer chains that comprise the plastic. Should the plastic become damaged, these bridges break down; but when exposed to light (or a temperature or acidic vapor) these linkages are able to repair themselves. But additionally, Urban has rigged the bridges to change color - to red - when such damage occurs, with the color change fading away when the material repairs - essentially heals - itself.
Such a material has obvious benefits when applied to consumer goods, such as laptops and mobile phones. Dropping the device would result in hairline cracks turning red, highlighting a need for repair (whereupon you need only expose the thing to intense light). But Urban also foresees heavier-duty applications: car fenders, aircraft components and even battlefield weapons systems among them (Urban has received U.S. Department of Defense funding for the research).
Source: American Chemical Society