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Stanford researchers develop self-healing ‘skin’

A Stanford School of Engineering research group has developed a skin-like synthetic material that heals itself in 30 minutes if torn or cut.

Led by chemical engineering professor Zhenan Bao, the team created the material from a mix of plastic polymers, which give the material its self-healing ability, and nickel particles, which give the material its conductive property.

To test the material’s conductive properties, the researchers cut a strip in half with a scalpel. Seventy-five seconds later they rejoined the material at the incision site and observed that the material retained 75 percent of both its original strength and electrical conductivity within seconds. In half an hour, the material regained nearly 100 percent functionality. The team also found that the same material could be cut and repaired as many as 50 times while maintaining its original bending and stretching capabilities.

The plastic was made up of long polymers connected by weak hydrogen bonds, allowing for easy reconnection of the easily broken bonds upon damage.

Chee-Keong Tee, lead author on the research paper published in Nature Nanotechnology on Nov. 11, said that the material would be able to detect the pressure of a handshake and other physiological properties like pressure and flexion in ways that would make the material useful in prosthetics.

Because the nickel particles conduct the electricity in the material, changing distances between nickel particles causes a change in electrical current flow. This can then register as pressure or tension information.

Potential commercial uses include using the material to coat wiring or electronic screens.

According to Bao, previous discoveries in self-healing materials had always presented major problems such as the need to be exposed to high temperature to function, the ability to heal only once or the inability to conduct electricity.

About Alice Phillips

Alice Phillips '15 is Managing Editor of News at The Stanford Daily. Previously, she worked as the paper's Deputy Editor, Chief Copy Editor, a News Desk Editor and a News Staff Writer. Alice is a biology major from Los Angeles, California.