When your smartphone shatters into a thousand pieces, so does your heart. And every time you drop your lifeline, it’s prompted the burning question: when are they (the tech gods, the powers that be) going to create a smartphone screen that doesn’t break into a million shameful pieces?
According to scientists from the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Riverside, the answer is ‘right about now’.
Chao Wang is a chemist leading the charge at the university where a self-repairing substance is well on its way to becoming a reality. Chao and his team have managed to create a material made of polymer and ionic salt, that can stretch up to 50 times its original size. The kicker is this: when the material breaks, it’s the charged ions and polar molecules that attract back to each other to self-heal. If it’s cut with scissors, for example, within 24 hours, it will heal. While there have been similar attempts in the past for clever self-fixing smartphones (LG’s G Flex, for example, can self-heal scratches), this latest development is the first that can conduct electricity, opening up a whole world of possibilities. Like an essentially unsmashable smartphone screen (we hope).
Inspired in part thanks to Chao’s “lifelong love of Wolverine, the comic book character who has the ability to self-heal,” the new material isn’t just limited to use in mobile phones – it could, UC Riverside’s site explains, could “give robots the ability to self-heal after mechanical failure; extend the lifetime of lithium ion batteries used in electronics and electric cars; and improve biosensors used in the medical field and environmental monitoring.”
Chao hopes this kind of technology will be mainstream in just a few short years. “Within three years, more self-repairing products will go to market and change our everyday life,” Chao told Business Insider. “It will make our cellphones achieve much better performance than what they can achieve right now.”
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