Key-and-lock commodity self-healing copolymers

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Science  12 Oct 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6411, pp. 220-225
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat2975

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Simple routes to self-healing

Biology provides many routes for self-healing or repair, but this trait is hard to endow into engineering materials. Although self-repair has been demonstrated for some polymers, it usually required specialized monomers. Urban et al. demonstrate that for a very narrow range of compositions, simple vinyl polymers based on methyl methacrylate and n-butyl acrylate show repeatable self-healing properties (see the Perspective by Sumerlin). A key characteristic of this system is that it relies on van der Waals interactions rather than the reformation of hydrogen or covalent bonds for repair.

Science, this issue p. 220; see also p. 150


Self-healing materials are notable for their ability to recover from physical or chemical damage. We report that commodity copolymers, such as poly(methyl methacrylate)/n-butyl acrylate [p(MMA/nBA)] and their derivatives, can self-heal upon mechanical damage. This behavior occurs in a narrow compositional range for copolymer topologies that are preferentially alternating with a random component (alternating/random) and is attributed to favorable interchain van der Waals forces forming key-and-lock interchain junctions. The use of van der Waals forces instead of supramolecular or covalent rebonding or encapsulated reactants eliminates chemical and physical alterations and enables multiple recovery upon mechanical damage without external intervention. Unlike other self-healing approaches, perturbation of ubiquitous van der Waals forces upon mechanical damage is energetically unfavorable for interdigitated alternating/random copolymer motifs that facilitate self-healing under ambient conditions.

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