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Heal Thyself

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Ding! The brand new surfboard you bought just got a big crack in it because you ran the surfboard into the doorknob on your garage door. But as you look more closely at the crack, your surfboard starts repairing itself until its finish is just like brand new. Is this story science fiction? No way! New materials are being produced that have the ability to repair themselves when damaged. Want to find out more? Well get cracking and start your study!

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Heal Thyself Brochure

Heal Thyself Brochure

How can materials self-repair surface damage?

Self-repairing or self-healing materials have the ability to repair damage caused by normal usage. Self-repairing materials have microcapsules of a healing agent stored inside of them. When the material cracks, the microcapsules open and release the healing fluid into the crack.

What are microcapsules?

Microcapsules are small capsules that are designed to release its contents when pressured, dissolved, or melted. A microcapsule has a uniform wall called the shell, coating, or membrane, which surrounds the core. The pharmaceutical industry, which produces medicine and vitamins, uses microcapsules. The specially coated tablets that people take release their contents over time in the stomach. A microcapsule's shell determines the speed that its contents are released from the core.

What is a catalyst?

A catalyst is a substance that accelerates a chemical reaction without going through a permanent chemical change. For chemical reactions to occur there must be a minimum amount of activation energy required to ignite the chemical reaction. A catalyst lowers the activation energy by two methods. Catalysts either bond the reactant molecules causing them to combine or they can change the structure of molecules which would increase the odds of a chemical reaction. Not only are catalysts used in chemistry but also biochemistry as well. For example, enzymes are proteins that accelerate specific chemical reactions. Your saliva has an enzyme that helps break down food for digestion. It would take weeks to do this without the use of a catalyst to speed up the process.

How are cracks assessed?

Cracks are assessed by measuring the length and width of a crack over time. By comparing the change of size over time, engineers can find the rate of how the crack size is increasing. If a crack is growing larger in a short amount of time, it is growing at a faster rate than that of a crack growing in a long amount of time.

Which materials and/or applications are most likely to make use of crack self-repairing technologies?

Self-repairing or self-healing materials have the ability to repair damage caused by normal usage. Self-repairing materials have microcapsules of a healing agent. When the material gets a crack, the microcapsule opens and releases the healing fluid into the crack. Cracks are usually mended by hand although they are difficult to find. The ability of crack self-repairing technologies will be very beneficial, because all cracks will be repaired instead of just those that are detected. The repair of cracks will allow the tool to be used longer, adding to its life span, as well as save costs in the replacement of broken machines. Due to the benefits of self-healing technologies, there are many applications that can use the technology. For example, electronic devices that have integrated chips can use crack self-repairing technologies. If an integrated chip has a crack, the whole chip and perhaps even the whole device will fail to work. With the use of a self-healing system that restores conductivity to a cracked chip, the chip would continue to work like normal. Another great application of crack self-repairing technologies would be to airplanes and spacecraft. Aircraft and spaceships could be coated with the self-repairing material which will fix its holes and cracks leading to less repairs.


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Tier 2 Lessons: Grades 7 - 12+

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