What are self-healing materials

Being able to heal a problem automatically without intervention is something scientists have been trying to create for some time. 

The best example of this in the natural world is the human body. While severe injury does require the intervention from medical professionals, the human body is in essence, a self-healing machine.

How the self-healing machine works

If you cut yourself, your body carries out several tasks to sort the problem.

Firstly, your body works to release proteins that will help form a blood clot at the site of the cut, ensuring there is no excessive blood loss.

This is followed by inflammation which allows your blood vessels to dilate (vasodilation) to allow more white blood cells to move towards the site of the cut. This white blood cells will attack any foreign bodies such as bacteria.

Finally, in a process of proliferation, fibroblast cells at the site of the cut produce collagen which helps keep the site secure and in place, while any deeper damage to the dermis is repaired.

So how can know the way in which a body heals, help other industries when it comes to self-healing?

person with band aid on middle finger

Self-healing growth

In an article published by soxsphere, they discussed how the self-healing industry is set to grow exponentially by 2029. Which isn’t unsurprising. If industries can find a way of fixing problems without intervention, not only does this save time and resource, but also minimise the financial impact. It is why companies that produce these materials are seeing more investment and interest.

Learning from self-healing in code

While code isn’t something we can touch, we can learn from it. Some algorithms are clever enough to notice when an error occurs and fix it. In the process of exception handling, data exceptions are identified and dealt with to ensure the data the end user receives is as it should be.

It is this process of identifying and fixing which tangible materials hope and have been replicating.


How do self-healing materials work?

Unlike mainstream polymers that contain large molecules, self-healing material contain microcapsules which are microscopic pockets that contain glue. This means that if the material is damaged, the pockets containing the glue rupture, thereby healing itself.

Another material which is known for its self-healing properties is bipyrazole organic crystals. Rather than being filled with glue pockets, when damaged, the crystals produce electrical charges which in turn re-attract the broken parts together. Clever right?

The Romans used self-healing materials

Interestingly, the Romans were one of the first known humans to use self-healing materials.

It has been found that a particular lime mortar used by the Romans had the ability to self-heal. By mixing quicklime and tuff together with water caused a Pozzolanic reaction which caused minerals to be created. In particular Stratlingite, a crystal. This meant that when cracks in the mortar appeared, the crystals would begin to fill these spaces and ‘heal’ the structure.

clear crystal

Where can self-healing materials be used?

Commonly, self-healing material will be used for structural objects. For example, in the future we could see roads being tarmacked with more responsive materials to reduce the number of potholes created.  They could also be used on a large industrial scale to ensure the smooth running of machinery.

road beside mountain with snow during daytime

image courtesy of Unsplash