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Cutting the "skin" with a scalpel  (Source: Benjamin Tee and Chao Wang)
This could be used to develop lifelike prosthetics

A new flexible, skin-like material has combined mechanical and electrical means of self-healing for a new generation of prosthetics. 

A Stanford University team of researchers led by Zhenan Bao, a Stanford chemical engineer, have created a self-healing polymer that isn't as brittle as many silicon versions (silicon is the base material of the electronics side of prosthetics) and also acts more like skin by offering enhanced sensitivity to forces like touch and the ability to self-heal. 

Bao and the Stanford team accomplished this by using plastics that are capable of joining their cut edges together when heat or light is brought into the equation. The edges can also be gently held together. Then, the electrical conductivity in thin, flexible circuits was increased through the use of nickel atoms.

These nickel atoms allow electrons to move between the metal atoms, and when force is applied to the "skin," the distance between the nickel atoms changes. This further affects the electrons' ease of jumping between the metal atoms, and alters the electrical resistance to the polymer. 

The synthetic skin was tested by being cut completely through with a scalpel. After bring the edges together for 15 seconds, the "skin" was restored to 98 percent of its original conductivity. The team also found that the "skin" could be cut and healed several times over. 

The next step, according to Bao, is to make the "skin" more lifelike by adding elasticity to the equation instead of just flexibility. 

Source: Science





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