Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 10:48 GMT
Scientists develop artificial 'skin'
The plastic might one day be used for making artificial organs
A self-repairing plastic "skin" has been developed and tested by US
The smart type of plastic, which automatically knits together when cracked or
broken, could one day be used to make artificial organs.
The material contains microcapsules filled with a special healing agent.
Like human skin, it bleeds and heals itself, offering a potential
breakthrough in vital materials used in surgical implants. It could also
prove useful for making rocket and spacecraft components, which cannot be
repaired once they are in use.
Wear and tear
Plastics are normally susceptible to cracking caused by vibration, bending,
and heat. Often the damage is deep within a structure, where it is difficult
to detect and repair.
But in fracture tests, the new self-healing plastic regained 75% of its
The technology could revolutionise the space industry
Scott White, a member of the University of Illinois team that developed the
"skin", said: "When the material cracks, the microcapsules rupture and
release the healing agent into the damaged region through capillary action."
The scientists are now trying to modify the plastic so that it is suitable
for commercial use.
They believe the technology could revolutionise the plastics industry, with
satellites, rocket motors and prosthetic organs prime candidates for
The research is reported in the journal Nature.
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