Researchers from the University of Tokyo in Japan have created a new type of polymer glass that can heal itself from breaks and cracks at room temperature.
The new material was discovered by chance when Yu Yanagisawa, a graduate student at the Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology in the University of Tokyo, was carrying out some experiments under the guidance of Professor Takuzo Aida.
According to Yanagisawa, he actually intended to use the material as glue in an experiment. However, he found that he had actually created a sheet of glass able to heal itself at room temperature after being pressed together by hand.
“I hope the repairable glass becomes a new environment-friendly material that avoids the need to be thrown away if broken,” Yanagisawa told the local media.
This self-healing glass is made from a “polyether-thioureas”—a low weight polymer—which uses compound thiourea to enhance the ability of hydrogen bonding. Experiments revealed that the new polymer could regain its original strength after a couple of hours.
Yanagisawa also said that it took him some time and repeated experiments to believe that he had actually discovered a self-healing glass.
It is not the first time that a self-healing material has been found by researchers, but what makes the new material different from the earlier ones is its structurally robustness and self-healing properties at the same time. According to researchers, healing ability and high mechanical robustness have been found to be mutually exclusive. In the past some hard, healable materials were invented by researchers, but most of them were found to demand heating to high temperatures (120°C or more) for repairing of broken portions.
Researchers at the University of California had also proposed using a polymer able to stretch up to 50 times its original size and heal the cracks itself. This material took 24 hours for self-healing.
According to some experts, the new polymer glass has potential to be used in creating healable screen for smartphones and other fragile devices, which pose significant challenges for sustainable societies. Medicine is another field where this new material could find its application and be used to strengthen bones inside the human body.
The findings of the research were published in Science.