Self-healing smartphones will show you where it hurts

April 7, 2012

self healing smartphones Allen Carpenter/Flickr

Gorilla Glass, micro arc oxidized back plates, scratch-resistant materials. These are only three of the technologies used by smartphone manufacturers to make their devices as close to indestructible as possible.

However, there might be a new way of making unbreakable gadgets, one that involves plastic. Dr Marek W. Urban, Professor of Polymer Science, and several of his colleagues from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, are reportedly working on a new type of self-healing plastic that might be used for manufacturing smartphones, in the not-so-distant future.

The new material contains long chains of polymers that are linked by small molecular bridges that break when a force is applied, enabling the plastic to change shape when it’s scratched. Confused much? Well, let’s try to explain the process in plain English, shall we? Rather than the chemical process itself, we’ll focus on what this material might do for a regular technology enthusiast.

So, the basic idea is that the new material turns red when damaged and repairs itself when exposed to visible light or specific changes in temperature or pH. Wow, that sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? And it’s even cooler if we take into consideration the fact that this type of plastic will react to pretty much any damage, from a simple scratch or “bruise”, to a serious “injury” of any kind.

Like I said, the plastic will change color when damaged and you’ll be able to tell from the intensity of the coloring how serious the “distress” is. After that, you’ll only have to expose it to sunlight and, boom, the plastic is back to its old self!

But wait, there’s more! Apparently, once the material’s molecules have been rebuilt, it’s possible to repeat the operation several times. In other words, you can drop, scratch, bang, and abuse your smartphone as many times as you want and its plastic case will swiftly heal itself .

The technology is still far from maturity and it needs some extensive work in the years to come, but, at least in my view, it could revolutionize the tech world as we know it. Just think of the endless possibilities opened by this type of plastic! Aside from smartphones and other consumer-oriented gadgets, it could be used on planes, cars, and any other type of machine you could think of.

It’s only just sweet dreams for now, but it’s concepts like these that made me, and probably many others, become passionate about technology.

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