In Focus: Smart Plastic


Man is continuously trying to invent products that will help himlead an easy and sustainable life. The latest green invention in thefield of science is of Smart Plastic made by researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. This material has self-repairingcapabilities, i.e., the plastic can repair itself if put under ultraviolet light.

According to scientists, as this material has the ability to repairitself, it can efficiently be used as car, floor or furniture paint andeven in medical surgeries. The presence of small molecules in thestructure makes it different from the normal plastic, which is actuallymade of long molecules. The smaller molecules in the Smart Plastic areheld together by a molecular glue. Under ultra violet light, thestructure is unglued, thus, giving it self-repairing abilities.


1. Sun-Powered Self-Healing Plastic – The End of Scratched Gadgets?

sun powered self healing plastic

Two scientists from the University of Southern Mississippi have made a plastic that can repair its scratches with the help of ultra violet light. What they actually did was that they used polyurethane to make the plasticbody. Polyurethane is an elastic polymer and resists scratch. With thispolyurethane, they combined OXE and CHI. OXE breaks down easily becauseof its unstable structure and CHI is UV sensitive. So, when a materialis scratched, OXE breaks to give reactive ends, which are then sealedwith the help of UV-sensitive CHI under the ultra violet light.

This plastic heals itself in just half an hour under a 120 W ultraviolet light. If it is confirmed that the product is safe andrecyclable, it will be a huge success.

2. Self-Healing Plastics Could One Day Repair Planes in Flight

self healing plastics

Engineers at Bristol University, UK have developed a plastic that can heal itself and it can be used in the manufacture of planes. This special featureof the plastic is due to the presence of micro tubes of epoxy resin,which are inserted in fiber-strengthened polymers. Whenever there is ascratch, this resin comes out of the tubes and fills the crack. Theengineers have also mixed an ultra violet pigment in the resin so thatthe healed cracks are visible to human eye, which can later be repairedpermanently.

3. Plastic Heal Thyself: Materials Mimic Vascular Networks

plastic heal thyself

The concept has been derived from the biological process, where webleed when hurt and have the capability to heal ourselves. Scientistsat the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have made a plastic,which has been inspired by human body, and it repeatedly heals itself.

This is because the new plastic has a vascular network. Scientistshave made micro channels in the substrate and filled it with a reactivefluid. This substrate is then covered with a brittle epoxy material that contains catalyst. Whenever the plastic is scratched, the reactivefluid comes out and heals the crack. Although the technology is veryuseful, its cost makes it impractical.

4. Researchers develop self-healing plastic for sustainable electronics

self healing plastic for sustainable electronics

As electronic components are made of thermoset resins, theydecompose when heated, thereby becoming a plastic waste. However,chemists at the University of Groningen have developed a new plastic that can be used to make electronic components and at the same time isrecyclable. This plastic also has the ability to heal itself.

This plastic is made of Polyketones that are cross-linked with anorganic compound called bismaleimide. The cross linkage is reversible,so when heated at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, the material becomes unlinedand then cools off to form the link again. According to the researchers, this plastic has the ability to be recycled seven times without theloss of any characteristics.

The benefits

• This Smart Plastic can have benefits in several fields. As theSmart Plastic has the capability of repairing in less than an hour, itcan be used in packaging, fashion or biomedical industries.
• Unlike normal plastics that require heat to be repaired, the SmartPlastic repairs using ultra violet light. This light can actually befocused only over the area to be repaired, leaving the other partsuntouched.
• Another use of this plastic can be in making large lenses, becausewhen healed the repair will remain transparent. This plastic can also be used to make clear domes over aircraft radar.
• This new innovative Smart Plastic can be advantageous over otherplastics because it will be able to heal itself without even leaving amark of the fracture.

The lowdown

Although the Smart Plastic has lots of advantages, few facts about it need to be confirmed before releasing it commercially.

First, it should be known what will happen to the plastic if it isscratched on the same place second time. Second, the shelf life of thenew plastic needs to be determined. Third, researchers should confirmwhether the product is recyclable.

The Impact

As the Smart Plastic has the ability to heal itself in a very shorttime, it can be used in several industries. The new plastic has smallermolecules attached with molecular glue, making it easy to be repairedunder ultra violet light. If all the doubts about the product arecleared, it is sure to become successful. Due to its self-repairingabilities, this product can make work easier for those who deal withplastics. If the product is recyclable, it will actually help in thereduction of lots of plastic waste.

Right now, we can wait and hope to get positive feedback for this product, so that it soon becomes available commercially.



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