Complete self-healing of damaged synthetic polymers in water can be achieved through an approach inspired by the adhesive abilities of mussels, reports a study published online in Nature Materials this week. The method could be used to make biomedical implants with enhanced durability.
There exist a variety of approaches to induce the self-healing of polymer materials. However, in most cases the polymers are not able to heal completely, in particular when they are in wet environments. Polymers decorated with mussel-inspired synthetic catechols - water-soluble organic molecules similar to those found in adhesive proteins secreted by mussels - have been shown to self-heal via bonding mediated by metal ions. However, this approach requires particular conditions for it to work.
Herbert Waite, Jacob Israelachvili and colleagues demonstrate a metal-free approach that relies on extensive hydrogen bonding between catechol-functionalized polymers. The authors also show that self-healed polymers following dissection recover the mechanical properties of the uncut material.