A newly created glass polymer can ‘heal itself’ without the need for extreme heat. But suggestions it could be used for phone screens might be a reach.
Several polymers already exist with self-healing properties, meaning that with the application of heat they can reform their bonds and thus repair cracks. Aside from the fact that usually only minor damage can be repaired this way, the big problem is that they often need to be exposed to temperatures of well over 100 degrees Celsius. That’s not exactly convenient for consumers, particularly with glass used in electronic gadgets that really shouldn’t be put in an oven.
A University of Tokyo graduate discovered the polymer, with the catchy name of TUEG3 (poly[thioureas] and ethylene glycol), while working to produce a glue. If pieces of the material are cut and the edges pushed together for 30 seconds, they’ll form a stable single sheet even at temperatures as low as 21 degrees Celsius.
The sheet becomes load bearing immediately (a report in Science noted a two-square-centimeter sheet can hold 300 grams) and within two hours has the same strength as if it had always been a single sheet.
While several media reports have dubbed it the latest hope for self-repairing phone screens, that’s unlikely any time soon. The edges of the two pieces being joined together need to be relatively smooth, something that’s going to be tricky to achieve in a cracked phone screen. There’s also the fairly significant limitation that in its current form the polymer is only semi-transparent.