Welcome to the Age of Self-Healing Plastic

Your cracked phone screen might soon be able to mend itself


What does your tennis racket have in common with Wolverine, the brooding mutton-chopped frontman of the X-Men franchise? Well, very little, as it turns out. But that might change in the near future.

Engineers at the University of Illinois have developed a new self-healing plastic, which has the potential to bestow “ordinary” items (from water pipes to Frisbees) with regenerative powers such as those possessed by Marvel Comics’ lupine warrior.

The breakthrough comes in the form of an anthropomorphic polymer, which automatically patches holes up to 35 millimeters wide thanks to a network of capillaries that bring liquid healing chemicals to the damaged area. If this sounds vaguely familiar, it should; the plastic is modeled on the human blood clotting system.

Although fixing such small holes might not sound like much—it certainly would leave Wolverine unimpressed—this development represents a major leap forward in the field of self-healing polymers. As the article in Science notes, this “innovative approach enables restoration of mechanical integrity to a damage volume that is roughly 100 times the largest defect previously healed in this manner.”