Researchers forge morphing smart material that heals itself

30 Jun 2016

Screenshot of material from accompanying video

A group of material science researchers has been quick to patent a new multifunctional smart material that can morph its shape when exposed to heat and light and can also disassemble itself.

This new mysterious-looking smart material was the work of a team from Washington State University (WSU) that was attempting to create advanced materials without the typical constraints that exist, such as cost or difficulty in construction.

The development of smart materials has increased significantly in recent years, with aims of using them in a number of different applications, such as drug-delivery systems or self-assembling devices, like a solar panel that could unfold itself when needed.

Capable of assembling and disassembling itself

Future Human

Publishing its findings in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, the team has revealed its latest material, which not only changes its shape when exposed to heat or light, but is also capable of assembling and disassembling itself.

This remarkable achievement is the first time that a smart material has had several advanced abilities including shape memory behaviour, light-activated movement and the ability to self-heal.

To achieve this, the researchers worked with long-chain molecules called liquid crystalline networks (LCNs), which, using its response to heat, was able to induce three-way shifting behaviour in it.

Additionally, a group of atoms were added that help improve the material’s reprocessing ability using polarised light.

A razor blade that heals itself

By harnessing both these traits, the smart material can remember its original shape to allow it to fold and unfold itself, as well as heal itself when damaged.

Taking one example, the team suggests that a scratch in a razor blade could be fixed using ultraviolet light to allow it to heal itself to its original form.

Regardless of whether razor blade manufacturers will want to sell a self-healing blade, the WSU team will no doubt continue to develop the material for future scientific and commercial applications.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic