The popular Marvel Comics character Wolverine has inspired the creation of a transparent, self-healing, highly stretchable conductive material that can power artificial muscles and improve robots, gadgets and batteries. Due to its self-healing capability, extend the lifetime, and lower the cost, of materials and devices.
“Creating a material with all these properties has been a puzzle for years,” said Chao Wang, an adjunct assistant professor of chemistry and an author of the study now published in the journal Advanced Material. “We did that and now are just beginning to explore the applications.”
The Wolverine-like material can also be used extend the lifetime of lithium ion batteries that are normally used in electronics and electric cars. It can also enhance the biosensors utilized in medical devices and environmental monitoring equipments.
The material is low-cost and easy to produce, however. Its rubber-like material is soft but it can stretch up to 50 times its original length. Once the material has been cut, it can simply re-attach or heal within 24 hours.
The material can also be used in dielectric elastomer actuator, which are also dubbed as artificial muscle. The artificial muscle is used to any material or device that can contract, expand or rotate in response to an external stimulus, which include temperature, pressure, current or voltage.
One of the authors, Christoph Keplinger, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, actually shown before that stretchable, transparent, ionic conductors can be used in artificial muscles to produce transparent loudspeakers. However, the devices in his research have not shown the ability to heal itself from damage.
When they tested the material with the artificial muscle, they found that it reacts when it receives a signal. And unlike the previous study, the new material has shown that it can heal itself, which the researchers liken to the ability that can be found in nature that is wound-healing.
Even when they cut the artificial muscle in two separate pieces, the material still healed without depending on any external stimuli. Afterward, the artificial muscle was able to get back to the same level of performance as it was before.