New self-healing material could transform smartphone screens

Image credit: iStock/scyther5

One of the most fragile parts of any smartphone tends to be the screen. Between scratches and accidents that cause shattering, screens are the most commonly repaired or replaced sections of a phone.

However, broken phone screens could soon be a thing of the past as scientists have developed a material suitable for use in screens that has the ability to heal itself. This could save individuals and businesses a huge amount of money and make screen protectors obsolete if it is introduced into the device market.

Researchers at the University of California at Riverside have developed and tested the material that has the ability to repair itself from scratches and cuts. They even went so far as tearing the material in half, but it managed to stitch itself back together in less than 24 hours, reports Business Insider. 

Although a similar material is used on the back covers of certain LG phones – such as the LG Flex – to heal scratches, it is not suitable for screens as it can't conduct electricity. In comparison, this new material does conduct electricity and so works with the electrodes placed under touchscreen devices. 

The new discovery is made out of a stretchable polymer – which allows it to stretch up to 50 times its original size – and ionic salt. It works to repair itself due to the ion-dipole interaction it features, which is a special bond that creates a force between charged ions and polar molecules. 

This bond means that when the material gets scratched, cut or broken, the molecules and ions are strongly attracted to each other, which causes the damage to heal over a short amount of time.

According to Chao Wang, the chemist leading the research, the fact that the material is so effective at repairing itself and because it conducts electricity, it will be particularly useful for both batteries and screens on smartphones and other mobile devices. It is hoped that it will be on the market by 2020, which could make it a game changer for the smartphone industry. 

Mr Chao said: "Self-healing materials may seem far away for real application, but I believe they will come out very soon with smartphones. Within three years, more self-healing products will go to market and change our everyday life. It will make our smartphones achieve much better performance than what they can achieve right now."