For who has experienced this slight twinge in the heart, and those few seconds of worry that occur between the moment a phone slips from our hands and the moment we pick it up in the hope that its screen is not broken, the discovery of these Bengali researchers have all of the good news.
These scientists from the Indian Institute of Education and Scientific Research (IISER), Calcutta, and the Indian Institute of Technology have successfully synthesized a crystalline organic material with a unique internal molecular structure that spontaneously repairs itself when it is damaged. Understand that if this structure breaks under the pressure of a push or shock, it will snap back into place as soon as the pressure ceases.
Using a point, the researchers caused light or serious breaks in this material and observed the damaged surface automatically return to its original state in just a few seconds.
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Already other self-repairing materials, but a first
This is not the first time that a team of academics has succeeded in developing a material that repairs itself. But so far this “magical” ability has been achieved on soft and amorphous materials, their internal structure being irregular and strewn with imperfections.
Achieving this same goal on a crystal structure was always a challenge. It is indeed much harder to reconstitute an organized, regular and dense molecular whole.
In addition, it is often necessary to stimulate the material, via light, heat or a chemical reaction, in order for it to repair itself. However, this is not the case here. The repair is automatic, without intervention.
This “Self-healing material is ten times harder than others”, explains Chilla Malla Reddy, professor of chemistry at the IISER, in charge of the project, and it belongs to the family of piezoelectric crystals, ubiquitous in the industrial and scientific worlds, from microscopes, to robots through the devices sent in the ‘space.
However, this solid material has the particularity of having a head-to-tail polar arrangement (positive end facing the negative end). This means that when a fracture appears in its surface, opposing electrical potentials are produced.
“These electric charges then allow instantaneous recombination, and the broken crystals repair themselves without external intervention”, explains the researchers in a simplified version of their publication presented in the journal Science. Electric potentials act as a force that restores order to the structure.
And if the reaction speed of just a few seconds surprises you, know that the components of the material fall back into place at a rather lightning speed: “During the repair, the broken parts move in a movement similar to a bee’s wing with an acceleration comparable to that of cars”, comment the researchers.
Towards self-repairing smartphone screens?
If the scientific field and industry will certainly have many ideas for using this new type of crystal, these inventors see another use much more down to earth and daily, in products used every day by billions of people: “Such a material could be used for mobile phone screens, to repair itself in the event of a fall and breakage. “, simply say the researchers. This is what leaves you dreaming.
The arrival of this invention in our smartphones is probably not for tomorrow, but soon perhaps our clumsiness will no longer be synonymous with a broken screen.
Sources : Simplified Publication (PDF) and The Telegraph India