Chemists and engineers at Stanford University have created a touch-sensitive synthetic skin that is capable of quickly healing itself at room temperature. This is the first material ever created that can both heal itself when damaged repeatedly in normal temperature ranges in addition to sensing “subtle pressure” when touched. In the long term, this could result in better prosthetics and devices that are self-repairing.
The project was performed by Professor Zhenan Bao and her team, who’s findings were published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology yesterday. This comes after years of advances in the field over the last ten years, according to Bao. Previously, self-healing materials required impractical conditions, such as high temperatures.
This material, however, is different. The healing process is fast, with a slice taking about half an hour to repair. Likewise, the repairs happen at room temperature, and the material’s structure is not changed in the process, a common issue with previous materials, meaning this material can heal itself over and over. In addition, this new synthetic material can conduct electricity, unlike previous materials, something that is essential in the digital age.
So what goes into a synthetic self-healing material? A resistant plastic polymer “consisting of long chains of molecules joined by hydrogen bonds,” forming weak attractions between atoms that cause self-healing. Tossed into the mix are particles of nickel, giving the material both conductivity and mechanical strength.
As for the touch-sensitivity, this is generated due to the nickel particles, which move when pressure is applied. The movement results in a change in electrical resistance when current is present. The material can detect the pressure of a handshake, for example, and is also sensitive to flexing, such as the bending of a joint.