Terminator-inspired material could one day heal itself in air and underwater

19 Aug 2020

The self-healing material developed with the US Army. Image: Texas A&M University

Researchers working with the US military have developed a new material that taps right into science fiction to power future drones and robots.

The US Army, working with researchers from Texas A&M University, has unveiled a 3D-printed material that can go from liquid to solid multiple times. Writing in Advanced Functional Materials, the researchers said it is a first-of-its-kind, stimuli-responsive polymeric material that can autonomously heal in air and underwater.

In terms of uses, the material could be used for uncrewed aerial vehicles and robots that can morph shape when needed. According to Dr Frank Gardea, principal investigator for the study, the material was inspired by the morphing ability of the T-1000 character from the iconic science-fiction movie Terminator 2.

As the research continues, the epoxy material could one day have the ability for massive reconfigurability and have embedded intelligence. This could allow it to adapt to its environment without any external control.

Currently, the morphing process in the material responds to temperature because it was initially easier to control in the lab. However, in the field, the researchers hope to introduce light-responsiveness to control how the material changes its structure.

First major step

“Most cross-linked materials, especially those that are 3D printed, tend to have a fixed form, meaning that once you manufacture your part the material cannot be reprocessed or melted,” said Gardea.

The dynamic bond found in this material allows it to change structure – in this case liquid to solid – multiple times, which allows it to be recycled. In addition, the dynamic bonds introduce a unique shape-memory behaviour in which the material can be programmed and triggered to return to a remembered shape.

Researcher Dr Bryan Glaz said the advancement marks “a first step along a very long path toward realising the scientific possibility for deep future platforms”.

Going forward, the researchers want to enhance the material’s healing abilities and find a way for it to respond to other stimuli beyond temperature and light.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic