Self-healing material research

Marika Yang

Mar 4, 2019

Let’s say you’re in the kitchen and you accidentally cut your finger with a knife, or you’re outside and trip and sprain your ankle. With time, these injuries heal themselves—that’s the power of the human body. What if synthetic materials had this power as well? Carnegie Mellon University’s Mohammad Islam and Lining Yao are developing a self-healing actuator, called Healer, which is expected to fully heal itself within a few hours with the same shape, functionalities, and properties as before if it is broken into pieces. Such actuators can be used as sensors and synthetic muscles.

Islam and Yao recently received a grant from Carnegie Mellon’s Manufacturing Futures Initiative (MFI)—which supports interdisciplinary research in the digital transformation of advanced manufacturing—to build and expand their research in developing such an actuator and raising the scale of production.

Islam, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, leads the Islam Research Group, which explores soft materials and nanomaterials research and development and recently developed electrically conducting self-healing polymer composites. To develop applications for this class of material, he reached out to Yao, an assistant professor at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute in the School of Computer Science. Yao’s Morphing Matter Lab is an interdisciplinary group that lives at the intersection between computer science, materials science and engineering, and mechanical engineering, and has developed several products that require 3D-printing operations.

The MFI is a really great platform to encourage us to start the conversation.

Lining Yao, Assistant Professor, CMU’s School of Computer Science

“The MFI is a really great platform to encourage us to start the conversation,” Yao said. “It's a really encouraging starting point because of the kind of the financial support and also the team we're building together.”

Using 3-D printing technology, Islam and Yao plan to fabricate an actuator by printing the conductive self-healing polymer composites in a layer-by-layer process with embedded pores filled with liquid that will allow the actuator to expand and contract like a muscle when it is heated up or cooled down. One of the project’s goals with the MFI grant is to develop a large-scale printing scheme that is sustainable for manufacturing possibilities.

Looking to the future, Islam and Yao are excited to continue advancing their research and using the Healer material for a wide variety of applications, including prosthetics. They will use MFI’s support to create the foundation of these ideas, the building blocks for larger projects.