Penn State researchers funded by the Army Research Office and the Office of Naval Research have posted video showing their progress on "self-healing" textiles that use proteins similar to those found in human hair and squid teeth to allow fibers to coated in polyelectrolytes so that they can be set and bonded using safe solvents under ambient conditions.
Currently, that means that rents in fabric can be repaired by setting a patch in place, adding liquid and waiting a short interval. The objective is to produce fabric where the polyelectrolyte-impregnated fibers patch themselves during a normal wash-cycle. As a bonus, the enzymatic coating can be engineered to target and break down specific toxic compounds, like nerve agents, before they reach the skin.
Many toxic substances can be absorbed through the skin. Organophosphates, for example, which are used as herbicides and insecticides are absorbed through the skin and can be lethal. Some of these chemicals have also been used as nerve agents. A garment coated with a self-healing film containing an organophosphate hydrolase, an enzyme that breaks down the toxic material, could limit exposure. The squid ring teeth polymer is self-healing in the presence of water, so laundering would repair micro and macro defects in the coating, making the garments rewearable and reusable.
"The coatings are thin, less than a micron, so they wouldn't be noticed in everyday wear," said Demirel. "Even thin, they increase the overall strength of the material."
For manufacturing environments where hazardous chemicals are necessary, clothing coated with the proper enzyme combination could protect against accidental chemical releases. Future use of these coatings in medical meshes could also help patients minimize infections for quick recovery.
"For the first time we are making self-healing textiles," said Demirel.
Self-healing textiles not only repair themselves, but can neutralize chemicals
[A'ndrea Elyse Messer/PSU]
Clothes Can Now Self-Repair, Thanks to Liquid Inspired By Squid Teeth