12 December 2013
Last updated at 11:05
The man-made gel would mimic the way amphibians can re-grow limbs
A man-made gel that is able to repair itself after damage could be used to make self-healing armour, paint or tyres, researchers have said.
Engineers at two universities in Pittsburgh have copied the way amphibians regenerate their body parts in the model for the synthetic gel.
It could eventually lead to tables capable of growing back broken legs, one university said.
The research was published in the journal Nano Letters.
Anna Balazs at the University of Pittsburgh co-authored the study.
She said it was the first time a man-made gel with the ability to re-grow parts that had been snipped off, like a salamander, had been designed.
The study was one of the “holy grails” of materials science, she said.
The ability of amphibians to re-grow a limb or a tail was a “truly a remarkable thing”, Ms Balazs said.
She added: “You can mimic in a synthetic material something that happens in biology. It does not even happen in human beings, really.”
It could be used to make phones able to fix their own screens, along with self-healing tables, said the University of Pittsburgh.
The rods expand into the surrounding solution when the material is cut
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University also contributed to the study.
Ms Balazs and a team of scientists designed a material made up of a solution with a gel embedded in it.
The gel contained nanorods, 10,000 times narrower than the width of a human hair.
The rods sense when the material is cut, and expand into the surrounding solution to make the surface repair itself.
Growth stops when specific particles in the outer layer finish reacting to the change.
Shyni Varghese, associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, said: “The material could be used for a self-healing paint, to heal the cracks.”
She said it could also be used for repairing body armour in the military.