A new type of plastic that mimics human skin changes color first to show damage from cuts and scratches, then heals itself when exposed to light or changes in temperature or pH.
(Source: Professor Marek W. Urban, University of Mississippi)
William, thanks for your comment. I agree with you about this not being likely for consumer-grade use. We addressed this issue earlier in the thread: since this is not close to commercial development yet, price and cost differentials are unknown. But self-healing plastics like this one--which unusually can self-heal multiple times--multiply the life of the object several times. Less plastic gets used during that time, so the COO to manufacturers would be lower than buying it once. It's not aimed at high-volume, low-cost throwaway applications, but ones where continued use of a high-value product is important, such as military or medical products.
It would be quite useful to know some of the more common materials propertiies of this self healing material, such as strength, stiffness, and temperature ratings, and that all important property, PRICE. My guess is that it would never be found in consumer goods evenif the cost were half that of styrene regrind. It appears that many consumer goods have avery intentional low quality level, so that they would be replaced every few months.
ChasChas, thanks for that comment. I agree with you. I've reported on several other experimental materials that seem to be moving toward intelligence, some of them via nanotechnology, and many of them based on shifts in electrical charge.
Nadine, thanks for the clarification. Since this material is aimed at self-repairing surface damage, I don't think it's designed for implants. But that's an interesting idea. There are many biocompatible plastics made for that application, and designing one of those to be self-healing would be a good PhD project.
Ann: I'm thinkiing specifically about joint replacement. I had the honor to attend an orthopaedic surgeons conference a few months ago. The technology is very interesting and has been making slow advances, especially in hip replacements. Even temperature and PH changes would be problematic for spine, knee and hip replacements.
But, it may cause less trauma than entirely replacing the unit.
Meanwhile, these new plastics are only a drop in the huge bucket of the amount of plastics we consume. So extending the life of non-recyclable, non-compostable plastics by reusing them helps keep them out of the landfill.
Nadine, intense light is one possible exposure mechanism--the article also mentions changes in temperature or pH. I'm not sure why strong light would be a problem for an implant, since an implant is usually kept away from light. Can you tell us more about what you mean?
NIST's new five-year strategic plan for its Material Measurement Laboratory lists additive manufacturing materials development as one of the main areas it will support by developing measurements, data, techniques, and models.
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