Stanford chemical engineer Zhenan Bao, PhD, dreams of developing artificial skin that could allow people with artificial limbs to distinguish between a firm grasp and a gentle tickle.
Now, her team may have created a material that could help do just that. It's extremely stretchy and can repair itself when pierced. The researchers knew they were on to something when they found the substance was too stretchy for their testing instruments. A Stanford News article tells the tale:
The clamping machine typically used to measure elasticity could only stretch about 45 inches. To find the breaking point of their one-inch sample, Cheng-Hui Li, PhD, and another lab member had to hold opposing ends in their hands, standing further and further apart, eventually stretching a 1-inch polymer film to more than 100 inches.
The material can also "heal" itself if punctured or scratched. From the article:
The team attributes the extreme stretching and self-healing ability of their new material to some critical improvements to a type of chemical bonding process known as crosslinking. This process, which involves connecting linear chains of linked molecules in a sort of fishnet pattern, has previously yielded a tenfold stretch in polymers...
The team has produced a video that lets you watch this special stuff in action. The research appeared this week in Nature Chemistry.
Previously: Stanford engineers create artificial skin that can signal pressure sensation to brain, Beetle wing design inspires ultra-sensitive electronic skin and How Stanford researchers are engineering materials that mimic those found in our own bodies
Photo courtesy of Bao Research Group