April 2012

Spontaneously Self-healing Polymers

Overcoming a fundamental dilemma in making polymers that combine strength and toughness with spontaneous healing capability.

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Image courtesy of Zhibin Guan

Illustration of self-healing in a fractured polymer via dynamic hydrogen bond interchange without external help from light, heat, or added healing agents.

The Science

A breakthrough has been achieved in designing strong, tough polymeric materials able to spontaneously repair themselves, a key feature of biological systems, without any external help from light, heat, or healing agents.

The Impact

This research overcame a fundamental challenge in the design and synthesis of robust, spontaneously self-healing polymers. The development of polymers that can spontaneously repair themselves after mechanical damage would significantly improve the safety, lifetime, energy efficiency and environmental impact of man-made materials.

Summary

A breakthrough has been achieved in designing mechanically robust polymeric materials that can spontaneously repair themselves, a key feature of biological systems, without any external help from light, heat, or healing agents. Despite significant previous efforts, progress towards the realization of spontaneously self-healing polymers has been hampered by a fundamental dilemma: the need to retain mechanical stiffness/strength while allowing the rapid material dynamics required for spontaneous healing. In research at the University of California, Irvine, this challenge has been addressed by designing and synthesizing a polymer that self-assembles into a nanostructured material incorporating both “hard” and “soft” phases. While the hard phase imparts mechanical toughness, the soft phase, comprising polymer segments with a network of hydrogen bonds, provides dynamic, self-healing capability. Under mechanical stress, connections between polymer chains within the soft phase can rupture but can readily reconnect through hydrogen bonding interactions, thereby effectively mending the damage. The development of polymers that can spontaneously repair themselves after mechanical damage would significantly improve the safety, lifetime, energy efficiency and environmental impact of many man-made materials. A patent application has been filed and a small start-up company has been formed with the goal of commercializing this technology.

Contact

Zhibin Guan
UC Irvine
zguan@uci.edu

Funding

Basic Research: DOE, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences program (synthesis, mechanical and self-healing characterization); corporate gifts and University of California, Irvine (structural characterization); National Science Foundation MRSEC (SAXS).

Publications

Y. Chen, A. M. Kushner, G. A. Williams, and Z. Guan, Multiphase design of autonomic self-healing thermoplastic elastomers, 2012,Nature Chemistry, 4, 467-472. http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/v4/n6/full/nchem.1314.htmlExternal link

Related Links

http://cen.acs.org/articles/90/i14/Polymer-Heal-Thyself.htmlExternal link

http://www.nature.com.proxy.osti.gov/nchem/journal/v4/n6/full/nchem.1357.html

Highlight Categories

Program: BES, MSE

Performer/Facility: University

Additional: Technology Impact, Collaborations, Non-DOE Interagency Collaboration

Last modified: 6/4/2013 4:04:09 PM