Self-healing glass could mark the end of the dreaded shattered phone screen.
A new type of polymer glass that can heal itself when cracked by simply being pressed together by a person’s hands, is now in development by scientists at the University of Tokyo after a student there discovered it… by accident.
Graduate school student Yu Yanagisawa, was attempting to make a glue for another experiment when he observed that the semi-transparent polymer, he was working on, known as Polyether-thioureas, was able to knit itself back together when compressed for several hours at room temperature.
The discovery means that in future, smashed and broken smart phone screens, may only be a temporary setback and their owners will be able to fix them by simply pressing their hands together.
A new era
The research, detailed and published in the journal, Science, is now being led by Professor Takuzo Aida from the University of Tokyo, and could herald the era of self-healing glass for phones and other fragile devices, such as smart watches, tablets and laptops. The scientists also point out the fact that the self-healing glass could help create a more sustainable world because less people would have to buy new phones when their old ones get smashed.
The problem of screens breaking when dropped is in itself a major headache for smart-phone manufacturers. The vast majority of modern handsets feature hardened glass displays, but have to strike a balance between having crystal clear HD quality resolutions and screen strength. Even then, smart-phone screens still crack under pressure. The newly discovered polymer could change the game.
Polyether-thioureas has been described as a wonder material and game changer for the future of smart-phones. The material sticks back together within approximately 30 seconds of being held in place, and can then return to its original strength within hours, if it is kept at room temperatures.
Not that self-healing rubber, glass, and plastics have not already been developed, but typically, such materials need high consistent temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Celsius. The problem with that is that most of the other components in smart-phones don’t react well to that level of heat, and tend to either melt or go on fire.
Store at room temperature
The researchers also claim that the new material is the first hard substance of its kind that can be healed completely at room temperature.
“High mechanical robustness and healing ability tend to be mutually exclusive,” wrote the researchers, arguing that while some hard but healable materials have been developed, “in most cases, heating to high temperatures, on the order of 120°C or more, to reorganise their cross-linked networks, is necessary for the fractured portions to repair”.
Consumers shouldn’t get their hopes up just yet however. It could still be several years and several generations before Polyether-thioureas can be used to produce phone screens that heal themselves.