A supramolecular polymer under development by AkzoNobel with scientists at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands could mean no more broken toys. Because with Supra B, they heal themselves.
Graham Armstrong, corporate director of research, development and innovation at AkzoNobel, said: "We are working on polymers that are able to heal themselves.
"They use supramolecular chemistry, which exploits some of the lessons we have learned from the way proteins bind together in biology. It means we can have solids that genuinely can heal."
The new plastic, which has been called Supra B, takes advantage of a kind of bonding that gives water its viscosity and surface tension. Known as hydrogen bonding, it uses the attraction between hydrogen atoms and other atoms such as oxygen or nitrogen.
In Supra B, the scientists have managed to quadruple the number of hydrogen bonds between the small plastic, or polymer, molecules so that it is as strong as other forms of plastic, but does not require a chemical reaction to join them together.
I recall a bendable, self-healing material in the work of science fiction writer J.G. Ballard. In his 1962 short story The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista, he wrote about psychotropic houses with bendable walls that responded to the emotions of visitors. The walls were made of plastex.
It was a beautiful room all right, with opaque plastex walls and white fluo-glass ceiling, but something terrible had happened there. As it responded to me, the ceiling lifting slightly and the walls growing less opaque, reflecting my perspective-seeking eye, I noticed that curious mottled knots were forming, indicating where the room had been strained and healed faultily.
(Read more about plastex)