Do you get nervous when somebody borrows your phone? Not because they might invade your privacy, but simply because they might drop it and break its glass? You are not alone, and the researchers at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata might have just found the perfect material to make a smartphone screen: A transparent material that is hard and self-heals when cracked.
Scientists have been working for decades to develop materials that can heal themselves, and they have had some success, too. For example, American Chemical Society researchers were able to develop small, swimming robots that can magnetically heal themselves, while researchers from the National University of Singapore took a different approach by making a smart foam material that allows robot hands to self-repair and sense objects.
However, one issue with these projects is that they are soft and opaque and not very suitable for rugged applications. So the researchers at IISER, along with those at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur decided to focus on developing something that is harder than conventional self-healing material, as reported by The Telegraph India.
The researchers used a piezoelectric organic material, which converts mechanical energy to electrical energy and vice versa, to make needle-shaped crystals that aren't more than 2 mm long or 0.2 mm wide, according to the experimental results which were published in the journal Science.
Due to their molecular arrangement in the specially designed crystals, a strong attractive force developed between two surfaces. Every time a fracture occurred, the attractive forces joined the pieces back again, without needing an external stimulus such as heat or others that most self-healing materials would need.
"Our self-healing material is 10 times harder than others, and it has a well-ordered internal crystalline structure, that is favored in most electronics and optical applications," lead researcher Professor Chilla Malla Reddy of IISER said.
“I can imagine applications for an everyday device,” said Bhanu Bhushan Khatua, a member of the team from IIT Kharagpur." Such materials could be used for mobile phone screens that will repair themselves if they fall and develop cracks."
There is only one problem, though. It might not be commercialized and available by the time you are out to get your next smartphone.