Now, aircraft wings that can ‘self heal’ on the fly

NEW DELHI (TIP): Even the researchers involved in the project describe it as “verging on science fiction”. A team of British scientists has produced aircraft wings that can fix themselves after being damaged, suggesting that self-healing technology will soon become commonplace.

Their research, due to be presented at a Royal Society meeting in London this week, is being billed as an important step in an emerging field which could soon produce self-healing nail polish and a cure for cracked mobile phone screens.

A team at the University of Bristol has been quietly developing the technology for the past three years. Speaking exclusively to The Independent on Sunday, its leader, Professor Duncan Wass, said he expected self-healing products to reach consumers in the “very near future”.

His team specialises in modifying carbon fibre composite materials, the strong but lightweight substances used increasingly widely in the manufacture of everything from commercial aircraft wings to sports racquets and high-performance bicycles.

Professor Wass and his team have been working with aerospace engineers at the university, who wanted to know if there was a way of preventing the tiny, almost undetectable cracks that form in an aircraft’s wings and fuselage. The team’s ingenious solution started “on the back of an envelope” but has since developed into useable technology. It involves adding tiny, hollow “microspheres” to the carbon material – so small that they look like a powder to the human eye – which break on impact, releasing a liquid healing agent.

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