Stanford polymer

The future of wearable Health Tech devices is closely tied to the development of new materials. As we try to link living organisms more closely to digital electronics, we will need all sorts of flexible materials that are bio-compatible and capable of performing useful functions. From artificial skin for prosthetics and robotics to implantable devices, these new applications require new materials with novel characteristics.

That’s why the serendipitous results of a recent experiment at Stanford University may have wide-ranging implications for future devices. A team of chemical engineering researchers were investigating a new polymer (plastic) material. When they went to test its stretching characteristics, they found that their test equipment didn’t go far enough so they stretched it by hand. Eventually, they found it could stretch to 100 times its original length. That’s interesting in itself, but they discovered it had other useful properties; it heals itself. Many polymers require heat or other treatments to repair tears or other damage. This new material will heal itself at room temperature, even when the damage is a few days old. It even heals at temperatures below freezing. The icing on the cake came when they found that the material will expand or contract when an electrical current is applied, which means that it may have potential use as artificial muscle.

New discoveries like this will speed the development of essential components, from artificial skin to artificial muscles. These new materials will help create adaptive devices that have wide application from augmenting human capabilities to prosthetic and robotic devices.