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Race Is On For Self Healing Building Materials

Imagine if a crack in things such as a bridge support or an aircraft could self-repair itself much the same way as our own skin does. The race is on in scientific circles to develop a material to do just that. John Howard reports.

Researchers at the University of Illinois, report that they are developing a material which could self-repair cracks in hard-to-reach items such as bridge supports, artificial joints, aircraft and even a spaceship.

The idea is to mimic the human body when you get cut - the necessary chemicals are brought to the site of the injury, the blood clots and new skin is grown to repair the cut.

So how could it to be done? - polymer composites. The same kind of stuff used in everything from aeroplanes, tennis rackets, golf clubs and computer circuit boards.

The secret is microcapsules about the thickness of a human hair that are spread throughout the building material. If the material cracks, the capsules break open and a liquid healing agent flows out.

The healing agent reacts when it comes in contact with a catalyst embedded in the material and a chemical reaction takes place, sealing the crack.

Test have already shown that as much as 75% of the strength of the material is recovered within 48 hours which means the life of things made with the composites could double or even triple.

But a material could crack and self-repair itself without anyone noticing? Simple, place a dye in the hair-thin capsules.

Aircraft and telecommmunications manufacturers are said to be taking notice. The idea is out there and the development race is on in the scientific world but it's not known whether New Zealand scientists are working on such a material. C'mon Kiwi.

Stay tuned! Scoop enjoys scouring the Internet looking for stories like this in the hope that our scientists gain a competitive edge. In recent weeks we've bought you the story about the Chinese developing food-plants which grow using salt water instead of fresh, a recipe for carp which Asians love but Kiwi's currently don't eat and are considered a pest here and, last week, the discovery that brake fern gobbles up arsenic in contaminated soils.

And why aren't we crushing our glacial rock which are full of minerals to re-mineralise our farm soils instead of drenching them with artifically-made chemical fertilisers. Germany and Austria does it.

And here's one for all you budding young scientists - what about developing a low-powered laser able to prune limbs off young pine trees in our forests - it would save heaps not to mention lowering forest-worker injuries when they fall out of a tree. And what's more, my wife is getting sick of doing ours with hand loppers.

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