Self-healing gel: 3D and 4D printing breakthrough

14 July 2017

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3D-printed gel changes form in response to environments, and when applied to certain products can bring them self-healing properties similar to living tissue.

Cracking your phone or tablet screen is a big frustration, and often a costly one.
Expensive screen repairs, however, could one day be a thing of the past, thanks to researchers who are developing a unique self-healing gel that could potentially be used to prevent screens from cracking – or ‘heal’ themselves if they do.

A new self-healing gel could make cracked phone screens a thing of the past: the chemical engineering experts in question have already used 3D printing to develop the self-healing gel that regenerates after being cut – just as living tissue does.

If successfully developed, the polymer-based substance could have myriad applications, from protecting mobile device screens to ‘healing’ interior and exterior car scratches.

Melbourne School of Engineering researcher Dr Luke Connal says 3D printers can potentially revolutionise manufacturing, but until now suitable printing materials have been limited. To help rectify this, his team has developed a polymer-based ‘ink’ that can self-heal.

This renders the discovery a work of 4D printing, as it adds the fourth dimension to 3D printing: time – in that the material can change shape over time spent in the elements.

The gel-like ink starts off as a similar texture to toothpaste. When you apply pressure it can flow, becoming stable again when the pressure is removed.

“After printing, these objects can heal a crack or even a cut and regain their original strength,” Dr Connal explains.

“This could enable custom printing of coatings that can heal after breakages, potentially as coatings for mobile phones.

“The materials we developed can also change shape when triggered by being swollen in a solvent, such as water. This enables printed objects to change shape once printed, which is known as 4D printing.”

“There is so much potential to develop new materials for 3D printing. It is a really exciting and rapidly developing area,” summarises Dr Connal.

Credit: University of Melbourne, pursuit.unimelb.edu.au


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