A team of Spanish scientists have developed the world's first self-healing polymer capable of mending itself independent of an outside trigger.
Nicknamed the "terminator" polymer after the shape-shifting, molten T-1000 robot from "Terminator 2," the substance is capable of an impressive 97 percent healing efficiency in just two hours, rendering it impossible to manually separate.
In the past, triggers such as heat, light or specific environmental conditions, such as pH, have been required in order to set this healing process in motion. The new substance, technically a "permanently cross-linked poly(urea-urethane) elastomeric network," works independently in room temperature as a velcro-like sealant.
Ibon Odriozola, the lead researcher, and his team from the CIDETEC Center for Electrochemical Technologies previously came close to creating a substance capable of mending itself independently in the development of self-healing silicone elastomers. External pressure was needed to begin the process and an expensive silver component was required, however.
The new polymer, in contrast, makes use of commercially available materials, allowing for a high degree of scalability.
According to David Mecerreyes, a polymer chemistry specialist at the University of Basque Country, the new material could improve the security and lifetime of plastic parts found in everyday objects, ranging from electrical components to cars and houses -- a belief shared by Richard Hoogenboom, the head of the Supramolecular Chemistry Group at Ghent University in Belgium.
According to Hoogenboom, "The introduction of a room temperature exchangeable covalent bond in classic thermoset elastomers provides unique autonomous self-healing abilities without comprising the pristine material properties. Close resemblance of this novel self-healing thermoset elastomer with current commercial materials makes it highly interesting for extending the lifetime of such materials."
Going forward, the researchers hope to achieve the same functionality in stronger polymeric materials.