Scientists in California have developed a self-healing, stretchable, transparent material that also acts as an ionic conductor. That’s a lot, so let’s break those terms down. Self-healing materials are those that, like skin and muscles in nature, can heal themselves over time. Ionic conductors are materials through which ions can flow, allowing them to be used in electrical devices.
“Creating a material with all these properties has been a puzzle for years,” said study co-author Chao Wang, an adjunct assistant professor of chemistry at University of California, Riverside. “We did that and now are just beginning to explore the applications.”
The ionic conductor material has a lot of potential uses. Batteries made using the material would last longer, and it could be used to make artificial muscles or skin for robots, allowing them to heal parts that are damaged. Self-healing materials significantly improve the lifetime of items made with them because they’re more resistant to wear and tear.
This new material also heals itself very quickly, within 24 hours at room temperature, which makes it very useful. It can also be stretched up to 50 times its original length, and can be stretched up to twice its original length within five minutes of healing, meaning it can be put back to use pretty quickly. This could have a huge impact in the way that we make and use various consumer products, allowing us to make objects that last longer so they don’t have to end up in the landfill so quickly.
While the self-healing ionic conductor sounds pretty amazing, it’s not going to revolutionize manufacturing just yet. Technology takes time to develop and implement, so it will be a while until this starts to be used in consumer goods. But it’s a material that has a lot of promise, and so finding funding for more tests and future development shouldn’t be all that hard to do. Chances are the scientists behind this are already working on securing future funding and thinking about potential applications in consumer electronics and other fields.