This Self-Healing Material Makes New Possibilities in Artificial Muscle Research

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Researchers within the Chemical Engineering Department at Stanford University developed a material that has broken the rules of how plastic reacts to being stretched. For years scientists and researchers have been looking for ways to make materials like plastic more malleable to be used for a variety of products and innovation within fields such as medicine. During their research, one of the team members at Stanford, who was a visiting student from China, wanted to how far this rubber like plastic called a elastomer, that they had recently synthesize could stretch. Normally materials of this type can be stretched two or three times their original length and still retain the ability to go back to that original size. Commonly researchers conduct a stress test which involves stretching the material past the point of retention until it snaps.

During the process of test this newly developed plastic, the machine used to stretch the material could only extended just over 45 inches. This proved to not be far enough to cause the material to snap. To continue with the experiment two of the team members held opposing ends of a 1 inch piece of the polymer and stretched it to more the 100 inches. This was remarkably higher than any other material of its type.

This material is extraordinarily stretchy but it also has self-healing characteristics. Damaged polymers of self-healing plastics typically require a solvent or some form of heat to be restored to their original properties, but this new material can heat itself at room temperature and repair damage that is untreated for multiple days.

The advanced stretching and healing abilities of this material is attributed to a type of chemical bonding process, crosslinking. This process involves connecting chains of linked molecules in a fishnet pattern, which results in a tenfold stretch in polymers. This innovative material is now being further research to add to developments in artificial muscle and skin.

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