Scientific research into self-healing materials has taken off significantly worldwide in recent years. The Delft Centre for Materials of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands has therefore taken the initiative to mount the first conference on the topic.
From Wednesday 18 April to Friday 20 April, 180 leading scientists, including all the new discipline?s renowned pioneers, will gather in the Palace Hotel in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, to present their findings during the First International Conference on Self-Healing Materials.
Scientific research into self-healing materials, and their production, is exceptionally varied and versatile, covering all major materials classes: from metals and concrete to polymers and ceramics. Natural materials possess the property of self-healing, but for man-made technical materials this is an entirely new asset.
The first prototypes of self-healing materials already exist: Prof. Scott White of the University of Illinois is focusing on a specific class of relatively brittle plastics. He has embedded microcapsules in the plastic which contain a ?healing substance?. If a crack develops in the material, the microcapsules will break, and this substance (a stable monomer) is then released into the material. When the monomers come into contact with a catalyst, which is present in the entire material, they form polymers which (partially) repair the crack. Prof. White is one of the 12 keynote speakers at the conference in Noordwijk (for the complete programme see: http://www.selfhealingmaterials.nl).
A similar approach to Prof. White?s is possible with concrete, which can be packed with small globules of dry cement. Should a crack appear in the concrete, the globule opens and reacts with water from its environment, so that the crack is nipped in the bud. TU Delft has devoted considerable attention to the topic of self-healing materials for some years now. The Delft Centre for Materials (DCMat), which accommodates the TU Delft materials research, has even chosen self-healing materials as its central research theme. A notable example of Delft research in this field concerns concrete with bacteria. In this project, project leader biologist dr Henk Jonkers works with bacteria which naturally produce limestone (calcium carbonate). If a crack occurs and water and oxygen enter the concrete, then the bacteria can get to work producing limestone. The main problem now is to create the right living conditions for the bacteria to be able to repair the crack when damage occurs.
Alexander Schmets, member of the organising committee of the First International Conference on Self-Healing Materials: ?The expectation is that major steps in this field will be taken within the next ten years. I believe we can then expect the first definite applications for the materials of concrete and asphalt. Structures made of these materials will have an extended life time as well as improved reliability compared to current materials. ?
Alongside the conference, DCMat has taken an initiative together with Springer Verlag to publish a book about self-healing materials in mid-year, containing an overview of the scientific state of affairs.