Summary: Guardian | Cracking future for fabric that heals its own breaks
Cracking future for fabric that heals its own breaks
Ian Sample looks at how self-healing materials inspired by nature could make cars, and space
Thursday May 13, 2004
Flick through the newspapers on a day of your choice and you'll find that somewhere in the world,
disaster has struck because something broke when it shouldn't have. The problem is simple: no
amount of testing can guarantee precisely when an engine will seize, a wing will crack, or a railway
track will fracture.
Our life-and-death reliance on materials has spurred a small group of researchers into action and what
they have come up with is remarkable. Instead of wood that splinters, glass that shatters and metals
that crack, they have created a new generation of materials that can recover from all but the worst
abuse. Crack them, and they repair themselves; break them in two, and they can be rejoined; puncture
them and they bleed and heal.
The prime driver for "self-healing" materials is safety. Provided that they can repair themselves quickly
enough, the new materials should shrug off damage that might otherwise spell disaster. "As soon as it
is damaged, you want it to heal," says Scott White at the University of Illinois, Urbana.
The materials have other advantages. Manufacturing costs are dominated by the need to make high-