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Japanese researchers develop self-healing glass "by accident"

Researchers based in Japan have developed a type of glass that’s capable of healing after it is broken, reports The Guardian.

According to the academics, the glass is made from a low-weight polymer material called ‘polyether-thioureas’, and can heal once it’s been damaged.

Instead of needing heat to melt the material, pressure – like a hand pressed against the glass – will begin the healing process.

Professor Takuzo Aida, from the University of Tokyo, led the research which was published in the journal Science. He claims that the glass could eventually be used in phone screens and other vulnerable devices.

Self-healing materials aren’t new, by any means. In the past, scientists have come up with rubbers and plastics that can reverse damage. However, the researchers believe that glass is the first hard substance capable of self-healing. Experts always thought that it would be impossible for such substances to heal at room temperature.

“High mechanical robustness and healing ability tend to be mutually exclusive,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

They said that “in most cases, heating to high temperatures, on the order of 120°C or more, to reorganise their cross-linked networks, is necessary for the fractured portions to repair”.

The researchers said the glass is “highly robust mechanically yet can readily be repaired by compression at fractured surfaces”.

Surprisingly, graduate student Yu Yanagisawa discovered made this discovery by accident. Instead of trying to make self-healing glass, he was exploring ways the material could be used as a glue.

Speaking to Japan’s NHK, he said: “I hope the repairable glass becomes a new environment-friendly material that avoids the need to be thrown away if broken.”

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