While similar self-healing materials have been developed in the past, they haven't been able to transmit the electricity required to operate a smartphone screen.
Dr. Wang's team is now working on improving the properties of the polymer, hoping to be able to make it perform better under more extreme conditions such as high humidity.
Wang added that he was researching making a self-healing lithium ion battery - "so when you drop your cell phone, it could fix itself and last much longer".
In most cases, self-healing polymers are created using hydrogen bonds or metal-ligand coordination, the study authors explained.
When it comes to creating materials, there are two different types of bonds, Dr. Wang said: covalent bonds, which are strong but hard to reform once broken, and noncovalent bonds, which are weaker but reform far more easily. The covalent bonds are strong but the same rigid nature means the bonds don't readily reform once they've been broken.
Chemists at UC Riverside have developed material that can fix itself from cuts and scratches. These interactions are in fact attractive forces resultant from electrostatic attraction between charged ions and polar molecules. These interactions have never been exploited for designing self-healing polmyers but Wang says these turn out to be very suitable for ionic conductors.
This material is especially well suited to smartphones because it conducts electricity, Wang told Business Insider. Here, the ion-dipole interactions between the polar groups in the ionic salt and the polymer connect the polymer chains to one another. When torn in two, the material stitches itself back together in its original configuration within a day. The new material responded to electrical signals, bringing motion to these artificial muscles, so named because biological muscles similarly move in response to electrical signals (though Wang's materials are not intended for medical applications). But there are still plenty of kinks to work out, and the team must test the material in harsh conditions like high humidity. It can change the mechanical properties.
The material, which was first outed in December and will be presented this week the American Chemical Society, has been developed by chemists at UC Riverside. Now, future smartphones are getting a headstart in being even better thanks to research out of the University of California at Riverside.