May 27, 2011

Discovery Files: Flaw Dropper

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University and in Switzerland have developed a polymer-based material that can heal itself with the help of a widely used type of lighting. Imagine repairing unsightly scratches on your car or dining room table quickly, easily and inexpensively.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Just (Sound effect: key scratch sound) Scratching the Surface.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Aarghhh -- I hate that sound, the unmistakable key scratch on the finish of my new, not-yet-paid-for car. Thanks to researchers here at Case Western Reserve University and in Switzerland, soon there could be a way for that scratch to completely heal itself in under a minute.

(Sound Byte :07.5) "We came up with this idea to basically develop a coating that, if it was scratched, you could simply take out a light and heal the scratch."

Stuart Rowan, one of the lead researchers, on "metallo-supramolecular polymers" -- that when exposed to UV light, become liquid at the site of the damage, and fill the crevasse. Switch off the light and the polymers resolidify, leaving the surface as good as new.

(Sound Byte :11) "We took out a razor blade and deliberately scratched the material and then put it under a UV light and within 30 seconds the scratch had disappeared."

The team had previously developed this material for a different application. It just took the right modifications to give it its "flaw-dropping" power. And if you think it's only for cars, scratch that.

(Sound Byte :06) "This could be a new varnish for your dining room table, where if you get a scratch on your table, it can be easily removed."

There are probably endless applications. "Scratch 'n sniff"[1] was cool, but just wait 'til we enter the world of "scratch 'n fix."

The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.
[1] Scratch 'n sniff
Scratch 'N Sniff™ is the trade name for a special kind of perfume or scent saturated printing in which the scent is enclosed in minute capsules, which can be broken open by friction. Read more:

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