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June 20, 2023

Self-Healing Skin

NSF-supported engineers at Stanford have fabricated a polymer-based material that can autonomously heal when damaged by cuts, slicing, or even puncture.

Credit: U.S. National Science Foundation

Human skin has many capabilities, from sensing temperature and pressure to stretchability and protection from bacteria, viruses, and harmful UV rays. What if we took inspiration from skin and made robots and prosthetic limbs that could have the skin-like ability to heal? We'll explore in the U.S. National Science Foundation's "Discovery Files."

Robots and soft electronic devices tend to use a single type of material for different layers to ensure a strong build. But could you have strength, resilience, and the ability to self-heal with another approach?

Engineers at Stanford University, supported by the NSF and the Department of Defense Army Research Office, have used dynamic polymers to fabricate devices with electric and magnetic particles that functionally heal after damage. These composites can recover their original mechanical and electrical properties after being cut, sliced, or punctured.

After settling on a pair of flexible polymers, the engineers tested their approach with several device types all of which were able to reassemble their layers correctly during the healing process.

The introduction of magnetic materials also allowed the devices to reassemble from completely separated pieces.

Co-Author Chris Cooper, "the concept that the layers will realign on their own is the big breakthrough."

This breakthrough approach may lead to ingestible robots that could self-assemble for non-invasive medical treatments or add multi-sensory abilities to robots or prosthetics.

To hear more science and engineering news, including the researchers making it, subscribe to "NSF's Discovery Files" podcast.

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