A self-healing bio-based synthetic material for robots inspired by squid

The Times reports on a very interesting development in science. It is the creation of scientists at Penn State University and the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart. It is a polymer which somewhat mimics the self-repair systems of the squid. The scientists got their inspiration from the ability of the squid to self-repair its teeth.

Self-healing polymer mimics squid
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Self-healing polymer mimics squid. Photo: Penn State.

Squid, as we know, have suckers at the end of their tentacles. These suckers are barbed with serrated rings like circular jaws. The teeth allow it to grip fish and shrimp upon which it preys.

The scientists have developed a polymer which mimics the process, which takes 24 hours in the squid in which soft parts of the proteins in the teeth rings help the broken pieces to fuse together. The harder parts help to reinforce the structure.

The polymer that the scientists have created requires the application of light or heat and water in order for it to self-repair but the process takes one second compared to the octopus’s 24-hours. They say that in this way their process is an improvement on nature.

Their research is published in Nature Materials and it is hoped that it will have applications in robotics and personal protective equipment.

Stephanie McElhinny, a biochemistry program manager at the US Army Research Office said:

Materials that undergo continual repetitive motion often develop tears and cracks that can expand leadding to catastrophic failure. With a self-healing bio-based synthetic material, any sites of damage that emerge can be repaired, extending the lifetime of the system or device.

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