As Covid-19 infections continue to spread, the importance of keeping a clean mask is always incomparable. But after re-wearing and washing, these masks can rub off and leave you exposed to the virus through tiny holes.
Scientists are trying to solve this problem before it becomes commonplace by synthesizing special proteins contained in squid to create a self-healing material that can extend the life of both masks and fans.
In a study published Monday in the journal Natural materials, a team of materials scientists and engineers from Germany, Turkey and Penn describe how they managed to turn unique squid proteins into a soft, biodegradable material that could be used to create soft robots ̵1; and personal protective equipment that is resistant. to ruptures (PPE)).
The self-healing material itself is not new to the field, but existing self-healing materials can take up to 24 hours to heal and significantly reduce overall damage resistance, the researchers explain.
Their new squid-inspired material, on the other hand, can withstand tears and cuts and heal damage simply. one second – while maintaining 100 percent of its previous strength.
Abdon Pena-Franchels, the first author of the study and a former PhD student in Penn, said in a statement that converting these natural proteins to use materials allows them to even surpass nature.
“We were able to reduce the typical round-the-clock healing period to one second so that our soft protein-based jobs can now repair themselves immediately,” said Pena-Franchels. “In nature, self-medication takes a long time. In this sense, our technology is superior to nature.”
How it works – Simulating the protein found in squid’s teeth, the team developed a synthetic protein that consisted of so-called “tandem repeats” or repetitive sections of DNA.
By controlling how these repeats occurred in the protein, the team was able to create an incredibly strong cross-linked network of proteins. Like Velcro, which can be crumpled and seamlessly tied together, the DNA repeating order in these proteins makes their molecular network incredibly resistant to permanent damage.
Melik Demirel, co-author of the study and Heck’s Department of Biomimetic Materials in Penn, says Reverse that, despite its resilience, this wound healing is not autonomous.
“It’s not self-activating,” says Demirel. He explains that for spark regeneration, the material needs either water or pressure. “We anticipate that the method can be used with light in the future.”
What were the results – To test the stability of their new material, the team conducted it through a series of tests, including tearing or cutting them and using it to make human-like muscles that could be 3,000 degrees of their own weight.
Compared to other self-medication materials that can take more than 24 hours to heal, the researchers found that their material was able to repair damage in just one second, making it much more durable in situations such as hospitals, where a tear in a piece of PPE can be fatal. minutes.
The team also found during their testing that the material would be able to regain 100 percent of its strength after repair, unlike other materials that lose some strength with each repair cycle.
In addition to creating elastic PPE, the authors say that this material can also be used to create wear-resistant soft robots or even prosthetic limbs.
The future of PPE – In addition to developing light-based approaches to begin the material’s self-healing, the team is also working to scale up the process in the coming years, Demirel said. The goal is to develop products such as prosthetics or PPE for non-laboratory environments.
Part of what worries about this possibility is the possibility of biodegradable and green technologies that will allow the use of this material, explains Demirel. Unlike polymer-based materials that are difficult to degrade, this biomimetic material can dissolve rapidly in a simple acid such as vinegar.
“From an environmental point of view, squid proteins not only provide new productivity, but also bring outlook,” says Demirel. “Future masks or fans can be green and also have high performance.”
Summary: Self-healing materials are indispensable for soft drives and robots that operate in dynamic and real conditions, as these machines are subject to mechanical damage. However, modern self-healing materials have disadvantages that limit their practical application, such as low healing strength (below the megapascal) and long healing time (hours). Here we introduce high-strength synthetic proteins that heal themselves with micro- and macroscale mechanical damage within a second by local heating. These materials are systematized for optimization to improve their hydrogen-nanostructured and network morphology with programmable healing properties (strength 2–23 MPa after 1 s of healing), which are several orders of magnitude superior to other natural and synthetic soft materials. Such health indicators create new opportunities for the creation of bioinspired materials and address existing limitations in self-healing materials for soft robotics and personal protective equipment.