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Chemistry—Polymer, heal thyself

 Pengfei Cao and Bingrui Li/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of EnergyJuly 2, 2018—An Oak Ridge National Laboratory–led team has developed super-stretchy polymers with amazing self-healing abilities that could lead to longer-lasting consumer products. The polymers are among the world’s stretchiest and can elongate about 1,000 to 5,600 percent before breaking. After breaking, they can be healed with complete restoration of elasticity by merely touching adjacent pieces. By tailoring the properties of segments and how they link to the polymer, the scientists tuned tensile strength, toughness and elastic recovery. They used stretchy polymeric strips to create a permeable membrane that selectively separated two gases. After that membrane broke, it self-healed to once again separate the gases. Tailoring the degree of hydrogen bonding was the key to self-healing and could be exploited to make other self-healing materials. “These novel materials provide an attractive platform for fabrication of functional films, membranes, coatings and devices with prolonged lifetimes,” said ORNL’s Tomonori Saito. The work was published in Advanced Functional Materials.