The desolate emptiness and darkness of space is interrupted only by the twinkling light of distant stars and galaxies as you scan the instrument panel before you. Suddenly, without warning, a laser cannon blast rips through the hull of your X-wing fighter! Not to worry. The fuselage employs a regenerative plastic composite that heals itself within seconds of impact. The dangers that occur in the life of the Jedi Knight are never-ending, including the hand you lost in a light sword battle with the Dark Lord. You have a new hand now covered by a skin-like layer of regenerative plastic that heals itself when damaged.
Too far out there! Not possible, right? Six years ago researchers at the University of Illinois developed the first self-healing materials including polymers. These materials are capable of mending themselves repeatedly when subjected to heat or pressure. This is essentially like giving life to a plastic, and the work at the University of Illinois is proof of concept. These materials employ an epoxy-based polymer layer deposited on a substrate that contains a three-dimensional network of micro channels much like the blood vessels in the human body. The epoxy coating contains tiny catalyst particles while the channels in the substrate are filled with a liquid healing agent.
During use, when a crack or other damage occurs as it extends down through the polymer coating and breeches the underlying micro channel, the healing agent travels through the micro channels and into the crack where it comes in contact with the catalyst. The reaction between the healing agent and the catalyst fills and repairs the damage. This system needs no outside force applied since the healing agent is drawn up through the crack by capillary action.
These same principles are being researched with other resin and catalyst combinations that expand its practical use into the medical field, including bio-medical materials used in implants and prosthetics. Implants are man-made body parts that have the ability to heal themselves when injured. The possibilities are endless.
There is also research in self-repairing mechanical systems for spacecraft and aerospace systems. Remember the T-1000 in the movie “The Terminator”? It was able to regenerate limbs and body parts when damaged. That technology may not be too far off.
Another form of regenerative plastic is in development and will be able to heal even larger gaps and more severe damage. This application, which is under study by researchers in Illinois, imitates natural healing techniques and applies them to plastic. The plastic is formed with two sets of hollow capillaries within its structure, which are filled with a regenerative chemical. When damage occurs, the chemicals mix and flow into the damaged area, sealing the gap and hardening to the consistency of the surrounding plastic. Yet another developing technology utilizes small capsules in the material capable of repairing much larger gaps.
Now imagine a world where you drop your cell phone and crack the screen and seconds later it repairs the crack. Or you have a minor fender bender with the car, and no trip to the body shop is necessary as the affected body panel repairs itself before your eyes. Then again maybe you are hurtling thru the vast emptiness of space in your X-wing fighter, knowing that the only thing between you and certain death can heal itself.
Although Craftech does not offer any of these regenerative materials, we do have a vast selection of high-performance engineered plastics to choose from. Call (800-833-5130) or email our Sales or Engineering departments ([email protected]) and we will be happy to speak to you concerning your plastic requirement.