Scratch That

Self-healing coating knits back together when exposed to light.

The days of living in fear of wayward shopping carts in parking lots might be numbered, thanks to a self-healing material discovered at Case Western Reserve University.

A team of researchers has developed a polymer-based coating that repairs itself when exposed to UV light, which scientists say could be used in a range of products from automotive paints to varnishes for furniture and floors.

The key lies in the polymer’s unique molecular design, which allows the material to temporarily disassemble when exposed to UV light-and reform once the light is removed.

“These polymers have a Napoleon complex-in reality, they’re pretty small, but are designed to behave like they’re big by taking advantage of specific weak molecular interactions,” says Stuart J. Rowan, leader of the Case Western Reserve University research team and director of the university’s Institute for Advanced Materials.

Rowan’s team partnered with researchers from Switzerland’s University of Fribourg and researchers at the Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

The discovery still has a long way to go before self-healing paints and varnishes are available on the market, but researchers say proving the concept works is an exciting first step.