Scientists create self-healing protective coating, deliver killing blow to screen protectors:
Dutch researchers from the Eindhoven University of Technology have created a non-stick protective plastic coating that heals itself when scratched. As far as I can tell, as long as the new coating isn’t completely penetrated, it should continue to heal itself almost indefinitely. From non-stick frying pans to antibacterial coatings on clothes, and from anticorrosion coatings on cars to the oleophobic coating on the iPhone 4, coatings are a very important part of modern day life. The problem is, coatings also tend to be expensive, and so they’re usually applied very thinly. As a result, as soon as you sustain that first scratch, all bets are off — as your old, scratched,
non-stick frying pan can attest. Now, the science behind this self-healing coating is fairly tricky, but here’s the basic gist. The Dutch material scientists came up with a coating formulation that separates itself into three layers: A top layer that repels water, a middle layer of polymer “stalks,” and a lower layer reservoir of the coating’s active ingredient. When the top layer is scratched, the active ingredient automatically climbs the stalks and self-heals, returning the non-stick surface to its former glory.
What isn’t clear is whether this same approach can be used for other kinds of coating, but considering most coatings are polymer-based, and that the research paper explicitly sets out to find a way of producing self-healing coatings of different varieties, I would be cautiously optimistic. As far as gadgets are concerned, self-healing coatings could replace screen protectors on smartphones and tablets, and possibly provide better protection against dirt and fingerprint smudges. There is also interest in self-healing circuit boards, but micro metal capsules that break open and fill any cracks are a better solution in this case. Beyond gadgets, this self-healing coating will probably be used be on cars (never wash it again!), airplanes (less dirt, less air resistance), ships (less algae/barnacles, less water resistance), frying pans, and possibly plastic tools and appliances, such as self-healing contact lenses.