If you chop this new bioplastic into pieces, they’ll join back together, as good as new, just by adding a drop of water. “What’s unique about this plastic is the ability to stick itself back together with a drop of water,” says Melik Demirel, professor at Penn State. “There are other materials that are self healing, but not with water.”
It really is pretty incredible. Imagine cutting a piece of string in two, then just wetting it and pressing the ends back together. When you do this to the new polymer, it forms a “rope” that’s as strong as it was before the cut. Take a look:
The inspiration for Demirel and his team came from squid teeth, which are self-healing. But instead of just harvesting squid, the team built the necessary proteins using bacteria to manufacture the material. The resulting material can be molded or cast.
While the magic, self-healing rope trick in the video is pretty neat, there are more practical uses. The team posits self-healing Internet cables running under our seas, or self-healing parts used in medical implants. In fact, medical uses are the major focus of research right now. “Maybe someday we could apply this approach to healing of wounds or other applications,” said Demirel. “It would be interesting in the long run to see if we could promote wound healing this way so that is where I’m going to focus now.”