Can materials self-heal?

The conference provides a unique opportunity for the idea of self-healing materi

The conference provides a unique opportunity for the idea of self-healing materials to take a step closer towards everyday reality.

Can materials used everyday have the same self-healing ability as the basic function of skin? A significant effort is underway around the world to achieve this goal and the latest research into self-healing materials will be presented at an international conference this week [27-29 June].

The third international conference on self-healing materials 2011 , co-sponsored by the University of Bristol, will be held at the Assembly Rooms, Bath. The conference is held every two years.

When objects break they can either be repaired or discarded. Repair often involves a complicated, messy and expensive process of glues, patches, welds or replacement of parts. Nature tends to do things a little differently. Depending on the severity of the damage, natural organisms will try to repair or restore the afflicted area in a process called ’self-healing’.

For humans, cuts, scratches and tears to the skin are often completely healed within a few days, while even more severe wounds can heal but perhaps with some scarring. In either case, the basic function of the skin to protect is recovered.

Two hundred researchers and industrialists from 21 different countries who are working or have an active interest in the area of self-healing materials will be presenting the latest state-of-the-art research and discussing future directions in self-healing materials.

Ian Bond, Professor of Aerospace Materials at the University of Bristol and co-chair of the conference, said: ’The event provides a unique opportunity for the idea of self-healing materials to take a step closer towards everyday reality.

Richard Trask , Lecturer in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol, who chairs the conference scientific committee, added: ‘A broad spectrum of industries both in the UK and around the world will be impacted by the developments underway, including aerospace, automotive, transportation, microelectronics, architecture, civil infrastructure and every day consumer items.’

The conference will include all types of materials such as plastics, ceramics, metals, composites and concrete, while biomaterials and bio-inspiration serve as model systems that guide the research in what is becoming a new class of self-healing materials.

Topics that will be discussed include:

  • Highway A58: the first self-healing road surface;
  • Self-healing concrete using bacteria;
  • Mussel threads as self-healing biofibres;
  • Carbon fibre composites with vascular networks which can heal like the human body
  • Self-repair of Li-ion batteries and microelectronic circuits;
  • Corrosion control coatings which can self-heal by rupture of embedded liquid capsules.

Hollow glass fibres embedded in carbon fibre reinforced plastic could be the key to safer flying
Image by EPSRC


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