Chinese organo-metallic chemist and associate professor at Nanjing University, Cheng-Hui Li, recently discovered a self-healing material. His two-year collaboration at Stanford University with Professor Zhenan Bao successfully produced a material, unlike other substances. Usually, these biomaterials require the input of heat or light energies or are moisture-sensitive. But the new self-healing material can repair itself at room temperature, down to as low as -20 degrees Celsius.
The team believes that the new material was born after they reformulated the crosslinking chemical bonding process. The process has previously been known to produce great stretchiness in the material it creates. This is due to the criss-cross pattern that the molecules are woven into.
In the research paper, “A highly stretchable autonomous self-healing elastomer”, Li also notes that after including metals in the material, and exposing it to an electric field, they observed a twitching movement much like that of animal muscle.
According to the paper: “Animal muscle is a biomaterial that has long fascinated the scientific world: it is strong, elastic and able to undergo self-healing when wounded.” Its properties of biological muscle have always been difficult to replicate, yet it seems the scientists have stumbled on success.
The paper boasts significant potential, “We believe that the material’s ability to restore a high dielectric strength after recovery from mechanical damage makes it promising for artificial muscle applications, and envisage that the design concepts presented here may represent a general approach to the preparation of highly stretchable functional materials.”
Parallel to the material’s prospects as artificial muscle, it has promise in terms of Bao’s research into artificial skin. Bao and her team have also previously worked with more fragile polymer materials, into which they introduced pressure sensors. These sensors were so sensitive they could distinguish a handshake from a butterfly landing. When combined, these technologies could aid in introducing sensation to prosthetic limbs or exist within fully functional artificial skin.