Polymer Gel that Heals by Itself

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Damage Control

A team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have created a polymer–based gel that replenishes itself and heals when cut or disbanded in between. The gel designed through computational models would enable complex materials to regenerate or heal themselves and eliminate costly repairs or maintenance, thus, increasing the durability of the materials. The research was inspired by the ability of amphibious animals to heal their limbs when severed.

Scientists had previously tried to create a system which can heal sections of a severed material; however, the latest research is leagues ahead considering the fact that the gel can regenerate bulk sections of the material that is severed. The team developed a hybrid material with nanorods embedded in a polymer gel surrounded by a solution containing monomers and cross–linkers (molecules linking one polymer chain to another) in order to replicate the dynamic cascade. Whenever a part of the gel is severed, the nanorods close to the cut acts as sensors and migrate to the new interface. The functionalized chains on the end of these nanorods keep them fixed to an interface and the sites along the rod’s surface triggers polymerization (formation of polymer chains or 3D networks) reaction with the monomer and cross–linkers.

The process is controlled through computational models created by the researchers so that the new gel appears like the gel it replaces. The nanorods are about 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of human hair. 

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