The ability to self-heal is common in the natural world but tricky to engineer. This is especially true when a material is wet — for example inside a human body for replacement surgery. Scientists at Penn State University however, have found a source of inspiration from squid ring teeth.
Professor Melik Demirel and colleagues were looking for a substance that was both strong and plastic enough to self-heal in water. Squid ring teeth were identified as showing all the necessary characteristics: they are robust, plastic and capable of self-healing even in water. The team cast the material into small, dog-bone shapes for testing. They then broke the substance, and were able to heal it back to its original shape using just a drop of water, slight pressure, and a temperature close to human body heat. Strength tests were conducted before and after breaking, and the material was just as strong after. While Demirel suggests the self-healing substance could have a wide range of applications, including longer lasting underwater fiberoptic cables, his team will focus on biomedical solutions.
Biotechnology is a fast growing research area, especially in terms of biomimicry. Could this material also be applied to materials often exposed to water, such as that used on ships and aircraft?