Wolverine may be famous for his beastly claws and manly sideburns, but his primary mutant power is his ability to regenerate damaged tissue faster than ordinary humans.
Taking inspiration from the Marvel comic book character, scientists from the University of California have developed a new material that could give robots the ability to self-heal after mechanical failure.
The soft rubber-like material is transparent and can stretch 50 times its original length. After being cut, it begins healing immediately.
After only five minutes of healing the material can be stretched two times its original length and, after 24 hours at room temperature, the cut is completely sealed up.
This is possible because the material is created using a mechanism called “ion-dipole interactions”, which are forces between charged ions and polar molecules that are highly stable under electrochemical conditions.
In the past, self-healing materials have been made using non-covalent bonds, which degrade when undergoing electrochemical reactions.
The material is also conductive, so it can be electrically activated to power artificial muscles.
In the same way that a human muscle (such as a bicep) moves when the brain sends a signal to the arm, the artificial muscle also reacts when it receives a signal.
The researchers were able to demonstrate that the ability of the new material to self-heal can be used to mimic a key survival feature of nature: wound-healing.
After parts of the artificial muscle were cut into two separate pieces, the material healed without relying on external stimuli, and the artificial muscle returned to the same level of performance as before being cut.
“Creating a material with all these properties has been a puzzle for years,” said Chao Wang, an adjunct assistant professor of chemistry who is one of the authors of the paper.
“We did that and now are just beginning to explore the applications.”
As well as self-healing robots, the material could be used to extend the lifetime of lithium ion batteries used in electronics and electric cars, and improve biosensors used in the medical field and environmental monitoring.
The ability to self-heal means it can repair damage caused by wear, and extend the lifetime and lower the cost of materials and devices.