Shubham Sunil Malu
Self-healing materials are a class of smart materials that have the structurally incorporated ability to repair damage caused by mechanical usage over time. The inspiration comes from biological systems, which have the ability to heal after being wounded. Initiation of cracks and other types of damage on a microscopic level has been shown to change thermal, electrical, and acoustical properties, and eventually lead to whole scale failure of the material. Usually, cracks are mended by hand, which is unsatisfactory because cracks are often hard to detect. A material (polymers, ceramics, etc.) that can intrinsically correct damage caused by normal usage could lower production costs of a number of different industrial processes through longer part lifetime, reduction of inefficiency over time caused by degradation, as well as prevent costs incurred by material failure. For a material to be defined strictly as self-healing, it is necessary that the healing process occurs without human intervention. Some examples shown below, however, include healing polymers that require intervention to initiate the healing process.
A good way to enable multiple healing events is to use living (or unterminated chain-ends) polymerization catalysts. If the walls of the capsule are created too thick, they may not fracture when the crack approaches, but if they are too thin, they may rupture prematurely.
In order for this process to happen at room temperature, and for the reactants to remain in a monomeric state within the capsule, a catalyst is also imbedded into the thermoset. The catalyst lowers the energy barrier of the reaction and allows the monomer to polymerize without the addition of heat. The capsules (often made of wax) around the monomer and the catalyst are important maintain separation until the crack facilitates the reaction.
There are many challenges in designing this type of material. First, the reactivity of the catalyst must be maintained even after it is enclosed in wax. Additionally, the monomer must flow at a sufficient rate (have low enough viscosity) to cover the entire crack before it is polymerized, or full healing capacity will not be reached. Finally, the catalyst must quickly dissolve into monomer in order to react efficiently and prevent the crack from spreading further.