Shape-Memory Polymer: Self-Healing Plastic that Fixes Itself

Sounds like something straight out of a science-fiction movie, but brace yourselves, it’s today’s reality.

This amazing new material is now being developed by the researchers in Arizona State. It is said to be self-diagnosing and self-healing, which means that it can detect the presence of damage and regenerate itself.

The material uses “shape-memory” polymers; materials that turn into a specific shape when heated to a certain temperature. View the video to see and example of how this works. The polymers are embedded with a fiber-optic network, that serves as both a sensor for damage and a heat delivery system.

The way the material works is when there is damage to the material (eg a tear or crack), an infrared laser transmits light through the fiber-optic network and delivers thermal energy to the problem spot. That triggers the shape-memory polymers, which are programmed to toughen up to 11 times. The shape-memory effect can also close up a crack or tear and regain an amazing 96% of the material’s original strength! The most amazing thing is that the material can self-heal while in use!

Just think of the applications such a material could be put to, such as implantable medical devices, especially if failure of such devices may mean certain death.