The solution to cracked smartphone screens may not come from stronger glass or less-clumsy owners. Based on new research published in Science, it's possible that the phones of the future will feature glass that "heals" itself when shattered. A version of this new type of glass has been developed by researchers in Japan, The Guardian reports.
Graduate student Yu Yanagisawa invented the material by accident while attempting to make a glue. The substance he came up with behaved strangely: If he made cracks in the surface, he could make the fissures disappear after pressing them together for 30 seconds at regular room temperature (about 70°F). He also found that the material reverted back to its original strength after being left alone for a few hours.
The polymer, called polyether-thioureas, isn't the first invention capable of healing itself. Scientists have already come up with self-repairing rubber, plastic, and concrete, and earlier this year Motorola patented a display that fixes its own cracks when heated. But according to the study, this is the first hard material whose self-healing properties function at room temperature. Thanks to a special hydrogen-bond pattern, the polymer offers the same robust protection as traditional glass without the irreparability.
It's easy to see how the technology could be a game-changer for phone manufacturers. According to a survey by Motorola, half of people around the world have cracked at least one smartphone screen in their lives. One possible reason that companies like Apple prefer glass for their screens over soft, durable plastic is that glass is more easily recycled. Yanagisawa believes his new polymer could be an even more sustainable alternative, as it could lead to fewer broken screens and phones being tossed in the trash.
[h/t The Guardian]