Self-healing materials sound like something straight out of a science fiction novel or comic book, right? Because unless those materials are "alive" in some sort of fashion, they can never really repair themselves.
Well, based on this piece of news, self-healing materials aren't so fictional anymore. In a report by Phys.org, a team from the Imperial College London managed to develop self-healing, "living materials" that repair themselves after taking damage.
They plan to use these things in applications where a manual repair isn't possible. These so-called engineered living materials or ELMs are designed to take advantage of biology's capability to replenish lost material, all by using a sense-and-response system.
The researchers from the Imperial College London published their findings in the journal "Nature Communications." According to Professor Tom Ellis, the study's lead author and faculty at Imperial's Bioengineering Department, the self-healing materials are a step forward from previous projects.
"In the past, we've created living materials with inbuilt sensors that can detect environmental cues and changes," says Ellis. "Now, we've created living materials that can detect damage and respond to it by healing themselves."
Self-Healing Materials: How Were They Made?
In order to create their own version of self-healing materials, the Imperial College team used bacteria called Komagataeibacter rhaeticus, which were genetically engineered to produce spheroids. These are glowing sphere-shaped cell cultures which were then given damage-detecting sensors.
By arranging the spheroids into varying patterns and shapes, the researchers demonstrated the spheroids' potential as building blocks for different materials. Then to test the self-healing materials' repair capabilities, they punched a hole through a thick layer of bacterial cellulose, injected the spheroids into the holes, and saw that the damage was repaired with excellent structural integrity after being incubated for three days.
Self-Healing Materials Are The Future
With these damage-detecting, self-healing materials, the future will have no need for unnecessary and dangerous repairs. FrontiersIn.org summarizes this perfectly: these materials have emerged as a "powerful" approach to creating functional and highly adaptive structures with excellent performance.
Just imagine the possibilities offered by this kind of technology. Repairmen no longer need to tend to potholes in harsh weather conditions, and you won't have to deal with paying for the repair or replacement of a broken windshield, etc. Or maybe a cracked smartphone screen can "heal" itself, saving you the trouble of having to find a replacement. The convenience that the world will get from self-healing materials is astounding.
But of course, this isn't everything that self-healing materials can do. About two years ago, a team of scientists at Columbia Engineering managed to create a self-repairing robot, which they also say is self-ware. Down the line, this technology could be able to create fully independent machines that don't need much human intervention to function.
The future is bright with self-healing materials already existing at this age.
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Written by RJ Pierce