Self Healing Materials

Sneak peak at images inside excellent paper reviewing self repairing materials. Click on link for a deep dive!

I’ve recently become more obsessed with self healing materials, which I have learned in materials science speak is “autonomous material systems”. I like that fancy title, in one part for it’s scienceness factor, but mostly because it reminds us that materials are complex systems, not a static substance. To get started I’ve included the Wikipedia definition is here (which has an excellent overview of the general research):

Self-healing materials are a class of smart materials that have the structurally incorporated ability to repair damage caused by mechanical usage over time. The inspiration comes from biological systems, which have the ability to heal after being wounded.

Below I’ve collected a variety of case studies and a general overview of some of the principles. If you’re ready to dive into the meat of the science there is a paper available here that really shows off the research.

Autonomous Materials Systems

The best site for an overview of the science as well as mind blowing examples of the materials research  is the Autonomous Materials Systems website from the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (whew that’s a mouthful).

The materials are incredible. Their research presents three main types of self healing materials;

  • Microencapsulated Systems – material containing little capsules filled with a healing agent that bonds when in contact with catalysts also embedded in the material (see diagram below).
  • Microvascular Systems – materials filled with capillaries filled with healing agents
  • Mechanoresponsive Polymers – modifications made at the chemical level that control how a material responds under strain – simple example is changing colour before failure. I’ll admit I understand this kind the least.
Wikipedia has a more complex break down, but I think the above categories work well for me.

Image by Carl Hastrich - modified from Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology: Pop a couple of capsules, connect to a catalyst and done! Simple as that.

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Green Chemistry and the Future of How Stuff is Made

I just returned from the Biomimicry Education Summit in Cleveland, which was fantastic, and explains a little lull (breather) in the blog postings. I will warn you that if I get a spare moment there will be a torrent of ideas bouncing around that have been stirred up over the last few days.

Remember the discussion about the future of materials? Biodegradability as a scenario of sustainability? On Monday morning John Warner, the godfather of green chemistry, gave a talk about his journey and the true story of  how stuff could and should be made in the future.

He also shared the secrets of the future of hair dye, but you’ll have to ask him directly for that.

For those of you who haven’t had the luxury of seeing an industrial chemist spin an incredible, compelling tale about the reality of the profession, I have included one of John’s lectures below. It is an incredibly important story, because to most of us Industrial Chemistry is a pretty frightening partnership of concepts. It is a black box of science that shapes everything we do, and yet is poorly understood by most. It turns out that it is even poorly understood by the chemists, who have traditionally had absolutely no formal education in toxicology, and therefore an extremely limited understanding of the impact of the synthetic chemicals produced.

So I invite you to explore John Warner’s story, which includes connections between music composition and chemistry (which is an incredible concept). I’ll be diving into this area for more resources and ideas, there is a lot of emerging information to be explored.

John Warner runs the Warner Babcock Institute, which will, I hope, shape everything in the future.