Can chemists concoct an unbreakable phone?

Dr. Chao Wang, a UC Riverside chemistry professor is creating a polymer that he says will make phones impervious to cracking. His inspiration? Wolverine — yes, that Wolverine, from the Marvel comic series.

Image via CNN.com.

Few things in this day and age are as disheartening as seeing your smart phone fall to the ground and witnessing its screen crack or shatter (which is why we exist!), knowing that you’ll either have to pay to get it repaired or go to the effort of replacing the device entirely. But Dr. Wang is posing the question- what if there was another option?

As Business Insider puts it, assistant chemistry professor Dr. Chao Wang and his colleagues developed the material from a stretchable polymer and an ionic salt, which are joined together by a special kind of bond called an ion-dipole interaction. This bond, they noted, is a force between ions and polar molecules in which they are attracted to each other in order to fix the damage. Otherwise known as…magic.

As mentioned, The new material comes from an unlikely inspiration, according to Mashable: comic books. Dr. Wang said that he was a big fan of the X-Men character Wolverine when he was growing up, and in particular, his “healing factor,” which allowed him to overcome any injuries and keep going.

When it comes to creating materials, there are two different types of bonds, Dr. Wang said: covalent bonds, which are strong but difficult to reform once broken, and noncovalent bonds, which are weaker but reform far more easily. In most cases, self-healing polymers are created using hydrogen bonds or metal-ligand coordination, the study authors explained.

They combined a polar, stretchable polymer with a mobile ionic salt and made a material capable not only of stretching itself up to 50 times its regular size, but also repairing itself in less than 24 hours – even if it is completely torn in half. Yes, really.

We all want to live in a world with indestructible phones, but until that day comes we’re not going anywhere. If you find yourself with a cracked screen in this pre-Wolverine-phone era that we live in, you know where to find us.

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