Academics in Japan claim to have developed a form of self-healing glass - a discovery they stumbled upon almost completely by accident.
Glass made from a low-weight polymer called 'polyether-thioureas' can be made like new by applying a modest amount of pressure, they claim. That's compared to traditional glass that needs to be melted down and re-pressed.
Professor Takuzo Aida, from the University of Tokyo, led the research, published in the journal Science. He claims that the glass could eventually be used on smartphone screens and similar devices.
Self-healing materials aren't new. In the past, scientists have come up with rubbers and plastics that can reverse damage. However, the researchers believe that glass is the first hard substance capable of self-healing. Experts always thought that it would be impossible for such substances to heal at room temperature.
"High mechanical robustness and healing ability tend to be mutually exclusive," the researchers wrote in their paper.
They said that "in most cases, heating to high temperatures, on the order of 120°C or more, to reorganise their cross-linked networks, is necessary for the fractured portions to repair".
The researchers said the glass is "highly robust mechanically yet can readily be repaired by compression at fractured surfaces".
Surprisingly, graduate student Yu Yanagisawa discovered made this discovery by accident. Instead of trying to make self-healing glass, he was exploring ways the material could be used as a glue.
Speaking to Japan's NHK, he said: "I hope the repairable glass becomes a new environment-friendly material that avoids the need to be thrown away if broken."
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