Ultra-tough, self-healing, recyclable plastics

 

IBM discovers new class of ultra-tough, self-healing, recyclable plastics:

IBM discovers new class of ultra-tough, self-healing, recyclable plastics that could redefine almost every industry

IBM discovers new class of ultra-tough, self-healing, recyclable plastics that could redefine almost every industry

IBM Research announced this morning that it has discovered a whole new class of… plastics. This might not sound quite as sexy as, say, MIT discovering a whole new state of matter — but wait until you hear what these new plastics can do. This new class of plastics — or more accurately, polymers — are stronger than bone, have the ability to self-heal, are light-weight, and are 100% recyclable. The number of potential uses, spanning industries as disparate as aerospace and semiconductors, is dizzying. A new class of polymers hasn’t been discovered in over 20 years — and, in a rather novel twist, they weren’t discovered by chemists: they were discovered by IBM’s supercomputers.

One of the key components of modern industry and consumerism is the humble thermosetting plastic. Thermosetting plastics — which are just big lumps of gooey polymer that are shaped and then cured (baked) — are light and easy to work with, but incredibly hard and heat resistant. The problem is, once a thermoset has been cured, there’s no turning back — you can’t return it to its gooey state. This means that if you (the engineer, the designer) make a mistake, you have to start again. It also means that thermoset plastics cannot be recycled. Once you’re done with that Galaxy S5, the thermoset chassis can’t be melted down and reused; it goes straight to the dump. IBM’s new polymer retains all of a thermosetting plastic’s useful properties — but it can also be recycled.

IBM’s new class of polymers began life, as they often do in chemistry circles, as an accident. Jeannette Garcia had been working on another type of polymer, when she suddenly noticed that the solution in her flask had unexpectedly hardened. “We couldn’t get it out, We had to smash the flask with a hammer, and, even then, we couldn’t smash the material itself. It’s one of these serendipitous discoveries.” She didn’t know how she’d created this new polymer, though, and so she joined forces with IBM’s computational chemistry team to work backwards from the final polymer. Using IBM’s supercomputing might, the chemists and the techies were able to work back to mechanism that caused the surprise reaction.

Scanning electron microscope image of the new PHT polymer discovered by IBM Research

This new class of polymer is called polyhexahydrotriazine, or PHT. [DOI: 10.1126/science.1251484 – “Recyclable, Strong Thermosets and Organogels via Paraformaldehyde Condensation with Diamines”]. It’s formed from a reaction between paraformaldehyde and 4,4ʹ-oxydianiline (ODA), which are both already commonly used in polymer production (this is very important if they want the new polymer to be adopted by the industry). The end result shows very high strength and toughness, like other thermosets, but its heat resistance is a little lower than other thermosets (it decomposes at around 350C, rather than 425C).

Jeannette “Jamie” Garcia: One happy IBM Researcher

In short, then, IBM has created a new plastic that could impact a number of industries in a very big way. The advantages of self-healing, tough plastics are highly evident in the aerospace, transportation, and architecture/construction industries. Thermoplastics also play a big part in the electronics industry, from the low-level packaging of computer chips, through to the chassis of your smartphone. In all of these areas, recyclability and self-healing could be a huge boon. As Garcia says, “If IBM had this 15 years ago, it would have saved unbelievable amounts of money.” Not to worry, Jeannette — there’s still plenty of time for IBM to save (and make) billions of dollars with this new plastic.

 

 

Source:  extremetech.com

 

Lab grows self healing muscle tissue

Engineered muscle fibers are strong and could self-repair:

 

self healing muscles

self healing muscles

 

 

Scientists have grown living muscle in the lab that not only looks and works like the real thing, but also heals by itself – a significant step in tissue engineering.

Ultimately, they hope the lab-grown muscle could be used to repair damage in humans.

So far trials have tested this out in mice.

Duke University researchers say their success was down to creating the perfect environment for muscle growth – well-developed contractile muscle fibres and a pool of immature stem cells, known as satellite cells, that could develop into muscle tissue.

In tests, the lab-grown muscle was found to be strong and good at contracting and was able to repair itself using the satellite cells when the researchers damaged it with a toxin.

When it was grafted into mice, the muscle appeared to integrate well with the rest of the surrounding tissue and began doing the job required of it.

They say more tests are needed before they could move the work into humans.

Lead researcher Nenad Bursac said: “The muscle we have made represents an important advance for the field.

“It’s the first time engineered muscle has been created that contracts as strongly as native neonatal [newborn] skeletal muscle.”

UK expert in skeletal muscle tissue engineering Prof Mark Lewis, from Loughborough University, said: “A number of researchers have ‘grown’ muscles in the laboratory and shown that they can behave in similar ways to that seen in the human body. However, transplantation of these grown muscles into a living creature, which continue to function as if they were native muscle has been taken to the next level by the current work.”

There is great hope in the scientific community that stem cells, which can transform into any type of tissue, will transform regenerative medicine.

Scientists have already made mini-livers and kidneys in the lab using stem cells. Others have been looking at mending heart muscle with stem cells.

But cures and treatments are still some years away.

 

Source:  bbc.com

 

3D printed synthetic biological material

Biological material could be 3D printed to create self-healing shoes:

Biological material could be 3D printed to create self-healing shoes

Biological material could be 3D printed to create self-healing shoes

Shoes as we know them are a pretty modern invention, and a lot of research has gone into creating more comfortable, high-performance materials to cover one’s feet. Even the most advanced rubber-soled shoe can’t compare to the concept being proposed by London designer and researcher Shamees Aden. These shoes would be 3D printed from synthetic biological material for the perfect fit, and they could repair themselves overnight.

The process would start with a 3D scan of the wearer’s foot. This would be used to print the “shoe,” which should conform perfectly to all the curves and lines of the scanned appendage. As for the material that it’s being printed with, that’s what makes the idea so intriguing.

Aden is working with Dr. Martin Hanczyc from the University of Southern Denmark. Dr. Hanczyc works with protocells, one of the most basic biological constructs. A protocell is not quite alive — it’s essentially a lipid membrane containing a collection of organic molecules that may have some biological activity. These structures can self assemble under the right circumstances, so there is great interest in the roll these almost-cells could have played in the appearance of life on Earth, a process known as abiogenesis.

protocell

Printing a foot covering out of protocells would allow for precise control of cushioning and support. The shoes could also react to different situations as they come by puffing up in places for added comfort. At the end of the day, the protocell shoe could be soaked in a solution the help the structures repair themselves.

This is obviously still just a concept — we don’t even have industrial scale biological printing. Even when we do, printing a semi-living shoes probably won’t be high on the to-do list.

Computer that will never crash

Scientists invent a self-repairing computer that will never crash:

Scientists invent a self-repairing computer that will never crash Read more at http://venturebeat.com/2013/02/14/scientists-invent-a-self-repairing-computer-that-will-never-crash

Scientists invent a self-repairing computer that will never crash

Scientists at University College London (UCL) have created a self-healing computer. The “systemic” machine, according to a report in the New Scientist, can instantly recover corrupted data. The invention is expected to have far-reaching consequences for physicians and the military. It could allow drones to recover from combat damage in a matter of seconds, or create a more realistic model of the human brain. The team behind the systemic computer built it to be able to respond to random and unpredictable events. Computers were originally designed to follow a linear set of instructions, and can only consider one thing at a time. “Even when it feels like your computer is running all your software at the same time, it is just pretending to do that, flicking its attention very quickly between each program,” Peter Bentley, a computer scientist at UCL, said in an interview with the New Scientist. Together with his colleague Christos Sakellariou, Bentley re-engineered a new computer that thinks more like the human brain. Anant Jhingran, who has been considered the brains behind IBM’s super computer “Watson,” said that new computing systems are designed to “mimic the real world better.” The vice president of products at Apigee, a “big data” analytics company, said IBM has spent years building computers that “observe and then react” like humans do. The trick is a safety in numbers approach: The new computer contains multiple copies of its instructions across its individual systems, so if one fails, it can access a clean copy and repair itself. In the future, Bentley’s team will incorporate machine learning, so if you’re sitting outside working and the temperature gets too high, the computer will respond to preemptively prevent a crash. The next generation of school kids may need to come up with a more creative excuse for failing to turn in work on time!

Self-healing protective coating

Scientists create self-healing protective coating, deliver killing blow to screen protectors:

Scientists create self-healing protective coating, deliver killing blow to screen protectors

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.

An oleophobic iPhone screen protectorWhat 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.