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Researchers Develop Plastic that Regenerates

May 09, 2014 09:33 AM EDT

Researchers have now developed a new kind of plastic that can re-grow to heal damage.

The self-healing plastic was created by researchers at University of Illinois. The new plastic doesn't just repair tiny cracks, but can fill large gaps by regenerating material. The polymer can heal holes created by bullets.

According to the researchers, the plastics' re-growing ability mimics repair and regeneration seen in some living systems.

The study builds up on researchers' earlier work on plastics. The team had demonstrated that multifunctional materials can be created by circulating fluids. Researchers were inspired by the biological circulatory system to create vascular materials. The new material has an intricate network of capillaries that heal 'wounds' in the plastic.

"Vascular delivery lets us deliver a large volume of healing agents - which, in turn, enables restoration of large damage zones," said Nancy Sottos, a professor of materials science and engineering, in a news release. "The vascular approach also enables multiple restorations if the material is damaged more than once."

Regenerative chemicals in the capillaries flow out after a damage. The liquids mix to form a gel that covers the gap made by the wound. The gel then hardens and forms the polymer, restoring the material's original shape and properties.

"The reactive liquids we use form a gel fairly quickly, so that as it's released it starts to harden immediately. If it didn't, the liquids would just pour out of the damaged area and you'd essentially bleed out. Because it forms a gel, it supports and retains the fluids. Since it's not a structural material yet, we can continue the regrowth process by pumping more fluid into the hole," said study leader Scott White, a professor of aerospace engineering.

The regenerating plastic could be used in several industries. In the future, we could have cars and aircrafts that are capable of self-healing. The team also demonstrated that they can tune the flow of gel or control the speed of hardening to heal a particular damage.

According to the researchers, the new materials are easy and cheap to build. Currently, the team is trying to fine-tune the regenerative chemicals used in different materials.

The study is published in the journal Science.

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