Technion University student develops self-healing electronic skin

According to the Technion, Muhammad Khatib, inspired by the biological healing process of the human skin, decided to adapt his elastomer into an autonomous self-healing system.

Human hand (Illustrative).  (photo credit: FLICKR)
Human hand (Illustrative).
(photo credit: FLICKR)
A researcher at the Technion University has developed a soft polymer waterproof elastic that can "heal itself" in the event of an "injury" (i.e. scratch, cut or sprain), the university announced Wednesday.
The doctoral student who invented the technology, Muhammad Khatib, incorporated advanced sensors into the polymer that can monitor temperature, pressure and acidity - which they purport can also be beneficial to the fields of robotics, prosthesis and wearable devices.
He conducted his research at the Technion's Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering, under the watchful eye of Prof. Hossam Haick and funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation accompanied by a grant from the A-Patch project.
Khatib's findings were published in the journals Advanced Materials and Advanced Functional Materials.
"During millions of years of evolution, the skin of mammals developed into a sensory platform characterized on the one hand by high sensitivity to environmental stimuli and, on the other hand, by great resistance to hostile conditions such as temperature, salinity, heat, stretching, and folding," the Technion said in a press statement. "Inspired by natural skin, a great deal of effort has been invested in developing artificial electronic materials and devices with similar properties – due to the huge potential for applications in fields such as soft robotics and human-machine interfaces."
"These types of systems require developing soft materials whose functioning is not harmed by distortions or tears. The problem is that soft materials tend to be damaged over time, and their functionality becomes impaired. Consequently, researchers are motivated to develop new materials and systems that can heal themselves, just like human skin does after an injury."
The elastomer - elastic and polymer - developed by Khatib and published in the Advanced Function Materials journal, is not only waterproof, but can also stretch up to 11 times its original length without tearing.
"One of its unique attributes is that it can heal itself, even when soaked in tap water, seawater, and water with varying levels of acidity. This elastomer has a huge potential for use in soft, dynamic electronic devices that come into contact with water. In the event that the mechanical damage to the polymer occurs when it is submerged in water, it knows how to heal itself and prevent electrical leakages (current flow from the device to the water)," the university said.
Khatib used this new technology to develop a sort of "electronic skin," which he presented in the Advanced Materials journal. He incorporated a myriad of capabilities into the skin, including selective sensing, resistance to water, self-monitoring and self-healing. The sensory system can also monitor environmental variable such as pressure, temperature and acidity.
According to the Technion, Khatib, inspired by the biological healing process of human skin, decided to adapt his elastomer into an autonomous self-healing system.
"This system consists of neuron-like components that monitor damage to the system’s electronic parts, and other components that accelerate the self-healing process in the damaged places. This mechanism of self-healing enables the smart electronic systems to self-monitor their activities and repair functional problems caused by mechanical damage," according to the university.
“The new sensory platform is a universal system that displays stable functioning in both dry and wet environments, and it is capable of containing additional types of chemical and physical (electronic) sensors,” Khatib explained. “Both projects that were now published pave the way for new paths and new strategies in the development of skin-inspired electronic sensing platforms that can be integrated into wearable devices and electronic skins for advanced robots and artificial organs.”