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Self-healing material that can carry current may advance robotics

2016 UCR Today A Wolverine Inspired Material
Healing factors are enjoyed by some of the most famous superheroes and they may one day be built into robots thanks to a team of scientists who’ve created a self-healing, stretchable, see-through, conductive material.

“I was a super fan of Wolverine since I was very young,” Chao Wang, a University of California, Riverside professor and one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “I was always thinking if our man-made materials, devices, or actuators can have self-healing properties as well.”

In a previous study, Christoph Keplinger, a University of Colorado, Boulder professor and researcher on the project, showed that a similarly stretchable, transparent, ionic conductor could power artificial muscles, but the self-healing property remained elusive until Wang and his team combined a high-ionic-strength salt with a polymer containing positively and negatively charged molecules.

The resulting material can stretch 50 times its original size, heal within 24 hours, restore electrical properties almost immediately, and withstand electrochemical conditions. Although researchers have been developing regenerative synthetic gels and polymers for more than 15 years, Wang noted that this material is unique for its many properties. “[This is] the first material to combine self-healing capability together with ionic conductivity, stretchability and transparency,” he said.

One of the material’s main applications could be to power artificial muscles in soft robots, which can be easily damaged and difficult to repair. “Imagine a new class of robots that are based on soft, elastic materials, being powered by stretchable electronic circuits and thus much more closely resemble the elegant design of biology,” Keplinger said. “This is the type of robot that will soon help us out in the household or help us care for elderly people.”

A paper detailing the research was published last week in the journal Advanced Materials.

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