IBM discovers self-healing polymer stronger than bone

Newly discovered chemical compound is stronger than human bones

Science

IBM scientists have discovered a polymer which they believe has the capability to revolutionise manufacturing in the transport, aerospace and micro-electronics industries.

Dubbed PHT, the polymer is resistant to cracking, stronger than bone, capable of self-healing and completely recyclable. Adding the polymer into existing materials, says Big Blue, will increase their strength by 50 per cent.

Polymers are a key part of everyday life. The chemical compound is used in thousands of items like plastic bottles, paints and food packaging as well as forming important components in cars and aeroplanes. PHT, say the IBM scientists, is much stronger than any polymer currently in use. It has the strength of metal while remaining lightweight.

In order to accelerate the creation process of the material, IBM scientists used "computational chemistry", coupling lab experiments with high-performance computing in order to model the new polymers as they formed.

James Hendrick, advanced organic materials scientist at IBM Research, said: "We're now able to predict how molecules will respond to chemical reactions and build new polymer structures with significant guidance from computation that facilitates accelerated materials discovery."

"New materials innovation is critical to addressing major global challenges, developing new products and emerging disruptive technologies,"

Despite this, PHT was discovered by accident. A scientist when creating a polymer already known to have high tensile strength forgot to input an ingredient.

The most unexpected property of materials created with the polymer is their ability to self-heal. Pieces that have been severed, when placed next to one another, re-create their previous bonds within seconds. IBM says that this would be especially useful in the production of adhesive gels, which could be used to repair expensive semiconductors and other small electronics.

"We think this is going to have a huge effect," Hedrick added.

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