Could Self-healing Materials be Biggest Trend in Materials Industry in 2016?

Artificially created materials that mimic the self-healing properties of living tissue are being touted as the next big trend in the materials industry. From rafts that heal themselves to roads that repair themselves, self-healing materials could find innumerable applications in everyday life soon. Earlier this year, NASA partnered with the University of Michigan to develop a material that could patch itself up, even when damaged by a bullet. The skin-like material, if punctured, ‘heals’ instantly.

The basic idea that lends self-healing properties to materials is simple: the use of multiple layers enclosing at least one layer of liquid in between can ensure that a puncture will be filled up by the liquid as it oozes out and dries instantly on exposure to air. In mission critical applications such as space explorations, self-healing materials could take safety to a new high given that spacecraft are constantly at risk from space debris.

However, what’s notable in the materials industry is that the use of self-healing materials isn’t just going to be limited to high-end applications – they will also make inroads into our everyday life. A case in point is Apple, Inc. reportedly patenting a self-healing material that will make future iPhones waterproof. With this technology being implemented, dropping your phone into water wouldn’t mean the end of its service life.

Self-healing materials could help the electronics industry move toward a whole new generation of electronics. Researchers at the University of Texas recently developed a self-healing gel that can instantly repair any damage to electronic circuits, besides making electronics more flexible. The researchers say that the material could change the way batteries, biosensors, and other flexible electronics function. Some more interesting work in this field is being done by scientists in Israel, who are studying how self-healing materials can be used for making prosthetic skin.
 
While it’s difficult to miss the high level of interest that self-healing materials are invoking, what now remains to be seen is if their real-world, commercial applications are just as promising.

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