Scientists create self-healing screen material for smartphones

Scientists have developed a new material that could solve one of the most annoying issues faced by smartphone users. It can even conduct ions in order to produce current.

The researchers say the material can stitch itself back together in less than 24 hours after being torn apart, with its charged ions and polar molecules attracting and aligning to complete the fix.

If everything goes according to the blueprint, scientists at UC Riverside sound optimistic that the new technology could make its way to smartphone consumers through self-healing displays by 2020. The applications go on and on.

The secret is a forgiving chemical bond between molecules. There are basically two types of bonds.

There are covalent bonds, which are strong and do not readily reform once broken; and noncovalent bonds, which are weaker and more dynamic.

Researchers at the University of California Riverside have designed a new polymer that can heal itself, opening up the ability to fuse cracks and paper over scratches. For example, the hydrogen bonds that connect water molecules to one another are non-covalent, breaking and reforming constantly to give rise to the fluid properties of water.

Most self-healing polymers form hydrogen bonds or metal-ligand coordination, but these aren't suitable for ionic conductors.

The self-healing properties have been achieved by combining polymer and high ionic-strength salt to create an ion-dipole interaction, or a force between charged ions and polar molecules. They've torn it in half and observed it stitching itself back together in less than 24 hours, and they've stretched it to 50 times its original size, only to see it remain functional. A polar, stretchable polymer and an ionic salt link tightly together - enough to pull the material together when it breaks.

What if your smartphone could fix itself if it breaks?

The team generated an "artificial muscle" by placing a non-conductive membrane between two layers of the ionic conductor, as a test.

The team will present its research at a Tuesday meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific organisation devoted to the study of chemistry. The material was able to make this artificial muscle move in the same manner as a real life muscle. "Previous self-healing polymers haven't worked well in high humidity, Wang says".

  • Carolyn Briggs