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new material with 'repairability' built in could bring benefits for aircraft and car safety – University of Reading

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new material with 'repairability' built in could bring benefits for aircraft and car safety

Release Date 14 October 2009

Self-repairing aircraft and cars are now one step nearer, thanks to research at the University of Reading into materials with intrinsic

"repairability" built into their design.

Researchers in the Reading Centre for Advanced Polymers (ReCAP), based in the Department of Chemistry, have designed an entirely novel material in which the binding forces between two different plastics are designed to be quantitatively reversible. As a result, the material's viscosity falls dramatically when the temperature is raised, enabling it to flow into damaged areas and repair them. On returning to room temperature the interactions are re-established and the material recovers 100% of its mechanical strength.

Howard Colquhoun, Professor of Materials Chemistry at the University of Reading, said: "Polymeric (plastic) components, such as the high-performance composite materials now in widespread use for aircraft construction, are often safety-critical. They are exposed to a wide range of mechanical and thermal stresses that can result in crack formation, which is potentially an extremely serious problem. Our research shows it is possible to design intrinsic 'repairability' into polymer systems by exploiting the concepts which have been developed over the past thirty years or so in the field of supramolecular chemistry".

Specifically, the Reading research group (directed by Professor Colquhoun and Dr Wayne Hayes, and working in collaboration with US-based researchers at Case Western Reserve University and the University of Delaware) have designed a pair of macromolecular structures which bind to one another through aromatic stacking and hydrogen-bonding. When blended together, these give a material whose mechanical properties can be recovered easily and quantitatively after fracture. Moreover, the material can be damaged and repaired many times at the same site without loss of performance.

Conventional polymers are often permanently cross-linked, which leads to high stiffness and thermo-mechanical stability. However, they also suffer from severe disadvantages including brittleness, lack of repairability, and poor recyclability. In contrast, the new research work was inspired by the idea of using reversible cross-links between the polymer chains, which could allow the material to be strong at room temperature but readily self-repair at higher temperatures.

In terms of future applications for this research in the automotive and aerospace industries, increasing the density and co-operativity of supramolecular interactions is probably perhaps the most promising way forward to further enhance the strength of this type of material. The Reading group is actively working on the design and synthesis of new polymer systems based on these concepts.


Further information from Alex Brannen at the University of Reading on 0118 378 7388

Notes to editors:

• The research will be featured in the next RSC Chem Comm publication - A self-repairing, supramolecular polymer system: healability as a consequence of donor–acceptor ?–?stacking interactions. Stefano Burattini, Howard M. Colquhoun, Justin D. Fox, Donia Friedmann, Barnaby W. Greenland, Peter J. F. Harris, Wayne Hayes, Michael E. Mackay and Stuart J. Rowan. Article citation: Chem. Commun., 2009, DOI: 10.1039/b910648k

• An image of the new polymer is available on 0118 378 7388

• More information on research in the Department of Chemistry at

• The University of Reading is ranked as one of the UK's top research-intensive universities. The quality and diversity of the University's research and teaching is recognised internationally as one of the top 200 universities in the world.

• The University is home to more than 50 research centres, many of which are recognised as international centres of excellence.

• The University takes a real-world perspective to its research and is consistently one of the most popular higher education choices in the UK.

• The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) 2008 results confirm the standing of the University of Reading as a research-intensive university. Published in December 2008, the outcomes recognise over 87% of the university's research to be of international standing.

• University of Reading is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.

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