It is called self-adaptive composite (SAC), and developed by scientists from Rice University – a material that self-heals itself while retaining reversible self-stiffening properties. What resulted from the research is a micron-scale rubber balls that is sticky, yet a solid matrix.
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The Rice University researchers were able to achieve SAC by combining two polymers as well as a solvent that evaporates during heating, and in its place a mass of sticky spheres is left behind. As soon as the matrix is crumbled or cracked, it quickly heals itself as many times as possible. The fascinating thing is that it returns to its original form after it had been squeezed and “injured.”
Publishing the research in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, a journal of the American Chemical Society, materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou of Rice University led the study and disclosed that SAC could be used as a light defect-tolerant structural component, and a biocompatible material that will be beneficial for tissue engineering.
Considering the fact that this is not the first attempt of scientists to create self-healing materials, many of these end up leaking liquid when they crack; but this is not the case with SAC.
“Those are very cool, but we wanted to introduce more flexibility,” said Pei Dong, a postdoctoral researcher who co-led the study with Rice graduate student Alin Cristian Chipara. “We wanted a biomimetic material that could change itself, or its inner structure, to adapt to external stimulation and thought introducing more liquid would be a way. But we wanted the liquid to be stable instead of flowing everywhere.”
According to Lou, the sample SAC does not look that it contains any liquid, unlike others that actually contain a gel. The SAC component is more or less like a cube of sugar that recovers nicely when squeezed or compressed in any way without appearing squishy. The scientists say it is possible to regulate how the material responds to mechanical application by add a little more liquid or a little more solid to fine-tune its composition and behavior.
“Gels have lots of liquid encapsulated in solids, but they’re too much on the very soft side,” Lou said. “We wanted something that was mechanically robust as well. What we ended up with is probably an extreme gel in which the liquid phase is only 50 percent or so.”
In the study supported by the Department of Defense and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Rice University scientists postdoctoral researchers Bo Li, Yingchao Yang, Hua Guo, Liehui Ge and Liang Hong; graduate student Sidong Lei; undergraduate students Bilan Yang and Qizhong Wang; alumnus Phillip Loya; Emilie Ringe, an assistant professor of materials science and nanoengineering and of chemistry.
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There are also Robert Vajtai, a senior faculty fellow in materials science and nanoengineering, and Ming Tang, an assistant professor of materials science and nanoengineering; Mircea Chipara, an assistant professor of physics and geology at the University of Texas-Pan American, and postdoctoral researchers Gustavo Brunetto and Leonardo Machado and Douglas Galvao, a professor at the State University of Campinas, Brazil.