Technology

The Cracked Phone Screens Of The Future Could Heal Themselves

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What happens when a budding scientist grows up idolizing X-Men's Wolverine? He creates a self-healing material, of course. Now, Wolverine's iPhone may soon be able to heal just as fast as Wolverine himself.

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A Material with Superpowers

"When I was young, my idol was Wolverine from the X-Men...He could save the world, but only because he could heal himself," researcher Chao Wang recently said in a press release from the American Chemical Society (ACS). Wang began working on a self-healing material that could stitch itself back together after damage, and came up with a game-changing polymer.

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The key to the the material's crucial new powers? Chemical bonds. In order to make a material that can heal itself, you want its chemical bonds to be noncovalent—that is, be able to break and re-form over and over. Scientists have created self-healing polymers before, but the noncovalent bonds they've used haven't been appropriate for something that needs to conduct electricity, like a smartphone screen or a soft robot. The material that Wang and his team used was made up of particles that formed ion-dipole interactions, a type of force that forms between charged ions and polar molecules and is much better for conducting electricity. Plus, the new material could stretch up to 50 times its size, and automatically put itself back together after being torn in half.

A new material not only heals itself, but it also stretches up to 50 times its usual size; these properties could fix your phone's battery if it cracks or prevent it from breaking in the first place.

What This Means For Your Smartphone

If smartphones were made with this new material, Wang explained in a press conference on the topic, they would be able to repair the phone's screen or even battery. Within just 48 hours, the material would recover all of its mechanical properties, including conductivity and stretchability. Another benefit? Most of the components used to make this material are relatively low-cost, Wang said.

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And Wang told Business Insider that he believes the self-healing material will be used for phone screens and batteries as early as 2020. "Within three years, more self-healing products will go to market and change our everyday life. It will make our cellphones achieve much better performance than what they can achieve right now," he explained. Great news for us—soon, dropping your iPhone may no longer be such a big deal.

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