Scientists believe new self-healing material for use in airplane construction could repair cracks in aircraft in a manner similar to the way human skin heals itself.
Developed at Bristol University, the team of scientists are focusing on carbon fibre reinforced materials that are currently used widely in sports equipment. They have developed tiny micro-spheres – or hollow capsules – that are filled with a healing agent. The micro-spheres are implanted into the carbon fibre composite material, along with a catalyst.
Upon impact, the micro-spheres spheres break open. When the liquid comes into contact with the catalyst, there is a hardening of the two materials, effectively gluing the crack caused by impact back together.
At the moment, the techology fixes small cracks rather than significant structural damage. The research team however points out that it is often very small cracks that lead to catastrophic aircraft failures.
Self-healing materials such as this are nothing new however, first gaining wide spread attention in 2001when researchers at the University of Illinois created a plastic that could repair itself.
Since then, there has been ongoing and highly successful work in the development of self-healing concrete for the construction indsutry and the limits of the technology seem to be showing no limits. Lead Researcher Professor Wass at the University of Bristol says, ‘We’re definitely getting to the stage where in the next five or 10 years we’re going to see things like mobile phone screens that can heal themselves if they crack.’