Nobody knows the remarkable properties of human skin like the researchers struggling to emulate it. Not only is our skin sensitive, sending the brain precise information about pressure and temperature, but it also heals efficiently to preserve a protective barrier against the world. Combining these two features in a single synthetic material presented an exciting challenge for Stanford Chemical Engineering Professor Zhenan Bao and her team.
Now, they have succeeded in making the first material that can both sense subtle pressure and heal itself when torn or cut. Their findings will be published on November 11 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
In the last decade, there have been major advances in synthetic skin, said Bao, the study's principal investigator, but even the most effective self-healing materials had major drawbacks. Some had to be exposed to high temperatures, making them impractical for day-to-day use. Others could heal at room temperature, but repairing a cut changed their mechanical or chemical structure, so they could only heal themselves once. Most importantly, no self-healing material was a good bulk conductor of electricity, a crucial property.
"To interface this kind of material with the digital world, ideally you want them to be conductive," said Benjamin Chee-Keong Tee, first author of the paper.
A NEW RECIPE
The researchers succeeded by combining two ingredients to get what Bao calls "the best of both worlds" the self-healing ability of a plastic polymer and the conductivity of a metal.
They started with a plastic consisting of long chains of molecules joined by hydrogen bonds the relatively weak attractions between the positively charged region of one atom and the negatively charged region of the next.
"These dynamic bonds allow the material to self-heal," said Chao Wang, a co-first author of the research. The molecules easily break apart, but then when th
|Contact: Andrew Myers|
Stanford School of Engineering