A New Polymer Promises To Heal Your Phone Screen


So you just got your hands on the latest smartphone to hit the market. You stare at it adoringly like a parent would do at their new born child. You handle it delicately and begin to se it with utmost care.

As time goes on, you become comfortable with your (new) smartphone till one day, a slip of the fingers or a nudge against your shoulder jars the phone out of your hands. Your entire world comes to a halt as you see your precious smartphone tumbling to the ground in slow motion.

You hear the dreaded crack of glass and you know, before you pick the phone up off the ground, that there’s no hope. The smartphone you so loved and cherished, now lies with its display shattered.

Ouch (Image Credits: GadgetHacks)

Okay, so maybe that was a bit dramatic

but in reality, with smartphones getting larger and larger displays, it’s becoming more costly to repair them in the event that they drop. Despite having certifications such as Gorilla Glass protection, that is not sufficient enough to protect the display of a smartphone in the event of an impact.

But what if your smartphone display could heal itself?

A team of Japanese researchers claim that they have developed a new type of glass. While that may not seem so appealing, its the characteristics of the glass that sets it apart. It can heal itself from cracks.

Made from a polymer called “polyether-thioureas”, the glass can essentially heal any breaks or cracks in it when pressed together by hand. It also does this without the need to use high heat to melt the material. According to the researchers led by Professor Takuzo Aida from the University of Tokyo, this new polymer has the potential to be used in phone screens and other delicate devices.

“It was an accident”

Like a number of important discoveries, this too happened by accident. Yu Yanagisawa, a graduate school student was preparing the polyether-thioureas as a glue. At that point, he found out that when the polymer was cut, the edges of the pieces wold stick together to form a single sheet. This was after being manually compressed for around 30 seconds at room temperature or approximately 21°C. Usually materials of this nature would need to be heated to around 120°C.

The new polymer can stick to each other by applying pressure at room pressure (Image Credits: Asahi)

Upon further experimentation, Yanagisawa discovered that the material actually reverted back to its original strength within a few hours. A bit skeptic at first, Yanagisawa repeated the experiment several times in order to confirm that the polymer material did indeed heal itself.

The polymer of the future?

While rubber and plastics with self healing properties have already been developed, the polyether-thioureas material is the first substance to heal itself at room temperature. But, there are a number of factors to take into account if phone manufacturers decide to go with this material.

For starters, the first question would be the cost. If  large scale production is possible, and manufacturers decide to go with the material, then how much more would the price of smartphones go up by? The next point to consider is the warranty for devices.

This would definitely take a hit (literally) as users can simply choose to repair the displays of their devices by just applying a bit of pressure to their smartphone display to repair it, rather than spend money and replace the display.

All in all though, the discovery of this polymer does have a number of benefits but might also raise its own set of cons. For now, let’s just sit back and watch what happens.  If you’re looking to read up on the article published in the journal Science, by the researchers, you can do so by clicking here. You will have to have a valid account to login and read it though.


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