Smart polymers may soon make a dent in auto body repair revenues. That's because smart polymers are able to repair themselves when exposed to ultraviolet light. The self-healing abilities extend beyond the plastics used in auto manufacture because while many polymers are plastics, many other materials, both natural and synthetic, are also polymers. Neoprene, nylon, PVC, polystyrene, polyethylene and silicone are all synthetic polymers that might be made self-healing.
Popular Science explains: ...known as supramolecular assembly, these self-healing polymers are composed of small molecules assembled into long, polymer-like chains using metal ions as a kind of "molecular glue" ... under intense ultraviolet light that molecular glue comes undone, allowing the material to flow like a liquid and fill in a scratch or tear. Remove the UV source, and the polymer glue sets again, re-chaining the polymer and creating a solid coating once again.
The self-healing properties of smart polymers are attractive, but I wonder what happens when sunlight hits a car coated with smart polymers. Does the surface go molten until sunset, or is the intensity of ultraviolet light required greater than that emitted from the sun? Maybe that's one of the items yet to be worked out.
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