Scientist Chao Wang is part of a team that has developed a conductive material that is transparent, stretchable, and self-healing a la Wolverine.
Wang is fascinated by Wolverine’s fictional regenerative abilities, specifically the manner in which his body heals itself of even the most dire injuries he sustains. It was this fascination that led him toward the development of a synthetic material that could repair itself, alongside a team that included fellow researchers from the University of Colorado.
The material needed to be able to mend itself, but the team wanted to do more. They wanted it to be conductive so that it could be stimulated in the same manner as our nervous systems stimulate our muscles, elastic enough to flex and stretch through any imaginable use, and transparent to boot. The material could be used for anything from powering devices to functional artificial muscle. It could make robots stronger and more graceful, or even be used to create artificial limbs that are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.
University of Colorado Assistant Professor Christoph Keplinger has used similar — though not self-healing — technology to create artificial muscle and transparent loudspeakers. But it’s that crucial ability to regenerate that sets this development apart and makes it viable to far broader usage. Carefully proportioned ionic conductivity is the key, in what Ph.D. student Tim Morrissey calls the “Goldilocks combination.”
The self-healing even functioned when the material was cut into two entirely separate pieces, completely reforming until it had regained complete functionality, without any outside stimulation.
It’s difficult to fathom the potential of such a massive leap forward in artificial tissue, but many are trying. Chao Wang’s e-mail inbox is quickly swelling messages from individuals all around the world, hoping to participate in the new material’s development.