Images

Hands-on at this exhibit

  • Handle samples of self-healing polymers.
  • Virtually test different molecular designs for self-repairing materials.
  • Damage and fix large-scale models of engineering structures.

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New plastics could enable car and aircraft components to fix themselves when broken.

 
Can materials repair themselves? Watch our exhibitors explain how new plastics could make revolutionary changes to human-made materials.

Biological materials, such as bone and skin, can regenerate after damage. But until recently such self-repair was almost unknown in man-made materials. Our exhibit shows how materials, called polymers, can be designed to contain complementary molecular surfaces that will reconnect to repair damage. Self-healing polymers could vastly improve the durability and safety of critical components in cars and aircraft.

Polymers are materials made of many repeating units connected together, and the best-known examples of polymers are plastics. When man-made polymers suffer excess mechanical or thermal stress, they become irreversibly damaged. Our research designs and develops self-repairing polymers by incorporating atoms and molecules that can re-bind after damage. The design process starts with computer simulations, then moves to experimental studies in the lab, before testing prototypes of new materials in real-world situations.

Lead image: Self-repairing materials could make cars and aircraft that heal themselves like human bone and skin.