PITTSBURGH (November 25, 2013) When a chair leg breaks or a cell phone shatters, either must be repaired or replaced. But what if these materials could be programmed to regenerate-themselves, replenishing the damaged or missing components, and thereby extend their lifetime and reduce the need for costly repairs?
That potential is now possible according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, who have developed computational models to design a new polymer gel that would enable complex materials to regenerate themselves. The article, "Harnessing Interfacially-Active Nanorods to Regenerate Severed Polymer Gels" (DOI: 10.1021/nl403855k), was published November 19 in the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters.
Principal investigator is Anna C. Balazs, PhD, the Swanson School's Distinguished Robert v. d. Luft Professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, and co-authors are Xin Yong, PhD, postdoctoral associate, who is the article's lead author; Olga Kuksenok, PhD, research associate professor; and Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, PhD, J.C. Warner University Professor of Natural Sciences, department of chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University.
"This is one of the holy grails of materials science," noted Dr. Balazs. "While others have developed materials that can mend small defects, there is no published research regarding systems that can regenerate bulk sections of a severed material. This has a tremendous impact on sustainability because you could potentially extend the lifetime of a material by giving it the ability to regrow when damaged."
The research team was inspired by biological processes in species such as amphibians, which can regenerate severed limbs. This type of tissue regeneration is guided by three critical instruction sets initiation, propagation, and termination which Dr. Balazs describes as a "beautiful dynamic cascade" of biological events.
"When we looked at the
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University of Pittsburgh