Synthetic Skin Heals Itself With a Touch, Study Shows

Material might someday be used for artificial limbs, researchers say

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists say they have created a touch-sensitive plastic "skin" that can heal itself when torn or cut.

The synthetic skin includes a plastic polymer with molecules that can reorganize themselves and restore the structure of the material after it is damaged. Tiny particles of nickel were added to the polymer in order to increase its mechanical strength and its ability to conduct electricity.

The Stanford University team tested the healing ability of the synthetic skin by cutting a piece of it in half with a scalpel. They then gently pressed the pieces together for a few seconds and found that the material quickly regained 75 percent of its original strength and conductivity. Within about a half-hour, the material was nearly 100 percent restored.

Even after being cut and repaired in the same place 50 times, the sample retained its original bending and stretching capabilities.

"Before our work, it was very hard to imagine that this kind of flexible, conductive material could also be self-healing," Chao Wang, a co-first author of the research, said in a university news release.

Twisting or putting pressure on the synthetic skin changes the distance between the nickel particles and, in turn, the ease with which electrons can move between the particles. These changes in electrical resistance can be translated into information about pressure and tension on the skin.

The material is sensitive enough to detect the pressure of a handshake, and may be ideal for use in artificial limbs, the researchers said. They also suggested that coating electrical devices and wires in this material could give them the ability to repair themselves and restore the flow of electricity without costly and difficult repair work, particularly in hard-to-reach locations such as inside walls or inside vehicles.

The study was published Nov. 11 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

More information

Columbia University's Go Ask Alice explains how skin heals after being injured.

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