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Polymer, Heal Thyself

ACS Meeting News: Thermoplastic elastomer spontaneously self-repairs

by Elizabeth K. Wilson
April 2, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 14

A new stiff polymeric material is able to repair itself, acting like “molecular Velcro” without any external help from light, heat, healing agents, or solvents, reported Zhibin Guan of the University of California, Irvine. The self-healing material that Guan and colleagues prepared is a hydrogen-bonding polymer composed of a glassy polystyrene backbone grafted with multiple soft polyacrylate-amide brushes (Nat. Chem., DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1314). This polymer collapses into a core-shell nanostructure and then self-assembles into a two-phase thermoplastic elastomer, the components of which contain both hard backbones and soft brushes. If an external force impinges on the material, the supramolecular connections between the soft brushes easily rupture, but then readily reconnect, effectively healing the material. Guan noted that the multiphase design underlies this self-repairing behavior. He also said the team believes its strategy should be useful for making many supramolecular systems, including block copolymers, functional nanoassemblies, and organic-inorganic nanocomposites.

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