Monday, July 19, 2010

Self-Healing Polymers - Maybe getting better

Over the last year I've discussed self-healing polymers a number of times (1, 2, 3) and have always been underwhelmed. I understand the challenges of technology development and how ugly prototypes can look (having done all this myself numerous times), but this area has struck me as not even being close to viable. Partly because the "rehealed" material loses a significant fraction of the original strength, but also because the self healing particles use up volume in the original material reducing its initial strength. It's a double whammy - you start out weak and only get weaker.

A new report in Smart Materials and Structures (open access but see [*] below) discusses an approach that in my mind is much more viable - name to have the reactants flow through a network of small tubes, akin to blood moving through your body. At least for the samples prepared in this work, the internal tubing (glass) did not significantly reduce the initial strength of the original material - a carbon fiber /epoxy composite. They did not take the next step of incorporating a reactive system, but it is a good first step that I've not seen before. Work of this nature would make me much more inclined to believe in the potential of the field.

[*] IOP has open access to most of their journal articles for the first 30 days after the article. Registration is required, commercial uses are prohibitted...

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