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Plastics That Heal Like Skin

Taking their cue from animal vasculature, engineers are building materials that "self-heal" breaks.

Edyta Zielinska

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, THEPAWN1

Using biological systems for inspiration, researchers are developing plastics with channels that actively pump a kind of glue or resin through cracks when they appear, "healing" the broken parts.

In the past, self-healing plastics relied on passive capillary action to deliver the liquid throughout the crack, a comparatively slow process.  However, researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a system that actively pumps the fluids by pressurizing them with a syringe placed outside of the plastic.

In the future, the syringe mechanism could be built into the material, which could be particularly useful in large-scale applications that already contain hydraulic systems, such as airplanes. "We would like to incorporate pumps into the material itself, perhaps pressure or magnetically driven," Nancy Sottos, an author on the paper told BBC News.

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