Stanford University scientists have succeeded in making the first material that can both sense subtle pressure and heal itself when torn or cut.
In the last decade, there have been major advances in synthetic skin, but even the most effective self-healing materials had major drawbacks, said Stanford Chemical Engineering Professor Zhenan Bao, the study’s principal investigator.
Some had to be exposed to high temperatures, making them impractical for day-to-day use. Others could heal at room temperature, but repairing a cut changed their mechanical or chemical structure, so they could only heal themselves once. Most importantly, no self-healing material was a good bulk conductor of electricity, a crucial property.
“To interface this kind of material with the digital world, ideally you want them to be conductive,” said Benjamin Chee-Keong Tee, first author of the paper.
The researchers succeeded by combining two ingredients to get what Bao calls “the best of both worlds” – the self-healing ability of a plastic polymer and the conductivity of a metal.