Tires, by Flickr user Jayme del Rosario (Used under CC License)Enlarge Photo
It's a situation drivers are all too familiar with: cruising along the road when suddenly a tire goes flat. Curse words, struggles, and inconvenience ensue. Researchers at Harvard University have developed a potential solution that could put flat tires, and the baggage that comes with them, in the past.
The material is as tough as natural rubber but combines new engineering feats to create a durable, self-healing rubber, according to Phys.org. Self-healing technology isn't new, but it's proven to be much more difficult to incorporate the technology into solid materials, such as rubber. Researchers were able to take the technology from self-healing hydrogels (water based) and create a rope of sorts for the self-healing rubber.
The bonds connecting the polymers in the rubber were reversed so they are able to break and reform and the molecular "rope" ties the natural and self-healing molecular bonds together. In layman's terms, the self-healing properties and rubber compounds finally play nice together with this latest material.
The benefits could be huge for tires specifically. Instead of needing a replacement tire or a spare right away, driving along the road would fix the puncture or whatever caused the tire to go flat. The new material snaps back into place as stress is released and allows imperfections to heal. There's still work to be done and the material is far from ready for commercial use. But the promise of self-healing rubber isn't so far-fetched.