The common sight of cracked and smashed smartphone screens could soon be a thing of the past thanks to the development of a new material capable of healing itself.
Scientists at the University of California Riverside created a new polymer that can stretch up to 50 times its original size. If torn in two, the material can stitch itself back together automatically within 24 hours.
“When I was young, my idol was Wolverine from the X-Men,” said Chao Wang, who led the research. “He could save the world, but only because he could heal himself.
A self-healing material, when carved into two parts, can go back together like nothing has happened, just like our human skin.”
The research was presented at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) on Tuesday, April 4. Wang believes the new material could make it to market in smartphones and other consumer products by 2020.
It is not the first time the concept of self-healing materials has been explored in smartphones, with the LG G Flex featuring a back panel that could repair small scratches.
The G Flex used a thin layer of resin covered by a protective film that made scratches disappear after a short amount of time.
But the material designed by the University of California Riverside chemists is not just a protective layer and is therefore resistant to more significant damage.
It can also be used as a screen as it is transparent and able to conduct electricity. The scientists hope to improve the material’s properties with further research.
“Previous self-healing polymers haven’t worked well in high humidity,” Wang said. “Water gets in there and messes things up. It can change the mechanical properties. “We are currently tweaking the covalent bonds within the polymer itself to get these materials ready for real-world applications.”