Cracked or broken phone screen is an unfortunate event that we’ve all experienced at least once, if not more. With smartphone technology improving by leaps and bounds every year, devices, accessories and replacement parts have become more and more expensive.
Dropping your phone on the floor and shattering the toughened glass screen comes at a cost. In fact, the fear of shattering phone screens has also become a cause of anxiety for many. But a new invention by a team of scientists from two Indian technology institutes might make that anxiety and extra expense of screen replacement a thing of the past.
A team of researchers, from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Kolkata, recently published in the journal Science about a new “self-healing crystalline material” that can reassemble broken parts of glass to bring back the original form.
A statement from the research team said, “Wound healing in living tissue and bone has inspired many synthetic self-healing polymers, gels and other soft materials in the last decade or so. However, replicating such repair in crystalline materials has remained a challenge as they are rigid and prevent diffusion of material at the damaged part due to dense and regularly arranged molecules in them.”
Led by Professor C Malla Reddy, the study is based on the concept that mechanical impacts don’t necessarily result in irreparable damage. The team developed a solid material in the crystalline state with a polar arrangement. This means that any breakage in the material along the surface will induce opposite electrical potentials at the broken surfaces.
The material is piezoelectric, which means it can convert mechanical energy into electric energy and vice versa. Piezoelectricity reportedly is crucial to self-healing in natural biomaterials.
In the demonstrated method, the glass is made up of needle-shaped crystals that around 2 mm long and 0.2 mm wide. Many of these are joined together with the help of powerful attractive forces between their surfaces.
In case it breaks, the forces rejoin the fractured pieces to initiate self-healing. While the concept of self-healing is not new, this method does not rely on external forces like electricity or heat which were pivotal to earlier methods.
Similarly, it has another edge on earlier self-healing technologies in terms of toughness. The material is nearly ten times harder than earlier materials which were soft and amorphous.
Nevertheless, it remains unclear how soon will we be able to see the technology on smartphones in the market. Issues that complement user experience, like touch responsiveness, will need to be straightened out first.