Got a scratched Maserati? Soon, the luxury automobile may not have to go to a body shop to be fixed.
Scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Fribourg University in Switzerland, and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, have made a polymer that absorbs ultraviolet light and converts it into localized heat, which allows material made from the molecules to flow into small scratches and dings to repair them, according to a report today in the journal Nature.
The polymer, initially rigid, becomes liquid-like when ultraviolet light of a certain intensity hits it, said Andrew Lovinger, manager of the National Science Foundation’s Polymer Program, which helped fund the project, in a conference call yesterday. Polymers are composed of large molecules strung together in long chains that entangle to give the material strength.
“You can think about different ways to realize this technology,” including in a car wash, Christoph Weder, director and chair of polymer chemistry and materials at the University of Fribourg’s Adolphe Merkle Institute, said on the call. “While, or before, or after your car is being washed, the system also screens for defects and fixes them.”
Previous research created a self-healing polymer that required the direct application of heat to repair damage, the authors said. The newest technology may one day lead to longer lifetimes in materials used in transportation, packaging and construction, according to today’s report.
Construction of material from the polymers won’t necessarily be expensive because the molecules are made from commercially available substances, the researchers said. The discovery won’t be ready for industrial application within the next year, they said.
The study was conducted by researchers Mark Burnworth, Liming Tang, Justin R. Kumpfer and Stuart J. Rowan from Case Western; Andrew J. Duncan and Frederick L. Beyer from the army laboratory; and Weder and Gina L. Fiore from the University of Fribourg.