Japanese researchers have accidentally developed a polymer glass capable of repairing itself by simply touching it.
$200-$300. This is the price asked by Apple to repair the screen of the iPhone X if you broke it out of warranty. A nice sum that explains the number of people who risk tetanus and a cut ear when they don’t get their phone repaired.
Repairable without heating
But all of this could soon be a bad memory. Researchers at the University of Tokyo have developed a new polymer glass (polyether-thiourea) that would allow smartphone screens to self-repair. More preferably, unlike similar attempts already known, this polymer would, for example, need not be heated with a dedicated device, sometimes up to 120 ° C and more. At room temperature, it could be repaired by pressing the finger on the screen. The new polymer glass is “mechanically highly robust and can nevertheless be easily repaired by compressing fractured surfaces” .
Discovered by accident
This is good news that looks like a little revolution for our daily lives. And as for many of these great finds, this one was discovered by accident. Yu Yanagisawa, a student at Tokyo University, was preparing a kind of glue with this material. He then realized that when the surface of the polymer was cut the two edges adhered to each other, making only one again, after being manually compressed for thirty seconds at 21° C.
Incredulous, the student repeated several times his experience to ensure the validity of his find. From there, other experiments have found that the material found its original strength after about two hours.
“High mechanical robustness and healing ability tend to be mutually exclusive,” wrote the researchers, saying that while some hard but healable materials have been developed, “in most cases, heating to high temperatures, on the order of 120°C or more, to reorganise their cross-linked networks, is necessary for the fractured portions to repair.”
A practical and ecological gesture?
This new polymer could therefore save a lot of expenses and even reduce pollution due to changes in broken screens. Still, it must be adopted by smartphone manufacturers. For now, despite the existence of several polymers of this kind, only LG seems to have jumped the pace, with its LG Flex 2, in 2015, whose back was able to repair itself to remove light scratches. Motorola is still in the stage of reflection and research, according to a patent published last August.
In this case, the ease of use could be a good reason to adopt this new material. With devices whose screens occupy more and more the entire front, not to mention the back glass, this polymer would have its place in our future smartphones.