In order to make a material that can heal itself, you want it’s chemical bonds to be noncovalent—that is, be able to break and re-form over and over. Scientists have created self-healing polymers before, but the noncovalent bonds they’ve used haven’t been appropriate for something that needs to conduct electricity, like a smartphone screen or a soft robot. The material that the team used was made up of particles that formed ion-dipole interactions, a type of force that forms between charged ions and polar molecules and is much better for conducting electricity. Plus, the new material could stretch up to 50 times its size, and automatically put itself back together after being torn in half.
If smartphones were made with this new material, Scientists explained in a press conference on the topic, they would be able to repair the phone’s screen or even battery. Within just 48 hours, the material would recover all of it’s mechanical properties, including conductivity and stretchability. Another benefit? Most of the components used to make this material are relatively low-cost.
Scientists told Business Insider that they believe the self-healing material will be used for phone screens and batteries as early as 2020. “Within three years, more self-healing products will go to market and change our everyday life. It will make our cellphones achieve much better performance than what they can achieve right now,” he explained. Great news for us—soon, dropping your iPhone may no longer be such a big deal.