Using an electro-conductive polymer, chemical engineers have created what is being described as a synthetic form of skin that, when injured, heals itself in a matter of seconds. The development is being called a “breakthrough” in the fairly new experimental fields of self-healing compounds and “epidermal electronics”.
Previous work in this latter field involved silicon-based materials which, though electrically conductive — a necessary property of artificial skin — were also quite brittle. No, if artificial tissue was going to substitute for actual skin, then it had to behave like actual skin; it needed to be robust — electrically and mechanically.
Over the past half dozen years or so, significant progress has been made. Chemists have since produced plastics that, when cut, can rejoin themselves. And, in 2008, a group of French engineers (the ESPCI group) designed a rubber compound that could restore its mechanical properties after repeated structural insults, including breaking.
Despite these achievements, however, the materials had low electrical conductance, making them less than ideal for their intended use as sensor material for prosthetics.
But now, engineers at Standford University (Bao et al) have effectively combined these two desired properties to advance the science substantially. The team was able to increase both the self-healing and electrical conducting properties of their new material by incorporating nickel atoms into the polymer which allows electrons to continuously jump between the metal atoms embedded in the polymer.
Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles and essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is also an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website (http://www.chaosmosis.net). Michael currently lives in Seattle, Washington.