Nature, 2011, 472, 334-337​- Optically healable supramolecular polymers


Polymers with the ability to repair themselves after sustaining damage could extend the lifetimes of materials used in many applications. Most approaches to healable materials require heating the damaged area. In the research article by Rowan and Weder et al (Nature, 2011, 472, 334-337),  Here we present metallosupramolecular polymers that can be mended through exposure to light. They consist of telechelic, rubbery, low-molecular-mass polymers with ligand end groups that are non-covalently linked through metal-ion binding. On exposure to ultraviolet light, the metal–ligand motifs are electronically excited and the absorbed energy is converted into heat. This causes temporary disengagement of the metal–ligand motifs and a concomitant reversible decrease in the polymers’ molecular mass and viscosity5, thereby allowing quick and efficient defect healing. Light can be applied locally to a damage site, so objects can in principle be healed under load. We anticipate that this approach to healable materials, based on supramolecular polymers and a light–heat conversion step, can be applied to a wide range of supramolecular materials that use different chemistries.

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