Japanese researchers may have solved cracked phone screens forever
I remember the first time I saw someone with a broken smartphone screen, going about their day as if nothing was wrong. At the time, it surprised me that they could put up with it, but now it seems far more commonplace. Most people you meet have broken their phone screens at some point in the past, and if they haven't, they are likely living in fear of doing so.
It seems like as phones get slimmer, lighter and altogether more streamlined, they also become more delicate. Personally, I clumsily drop my iPhone all the time - and yet have somehow I have gotten away without much more than a scratch. Others aren't so lucky however, and are faced with the choice of forking out for a screen replacement or going straight to the upgrade to a new model instead.
A significant portion of the earnings from phone companies likely come from these forced upgrades, so if there was a way around this issue we would all end up saving a lot of money. Thankfully, researchers in Japan have supposedly made a "new type of glass" which self-heals, making the the fear of breaking phone screens a thing of the past.
Made of a "low weight polymer" called polyether-thioureas, they claim that this new glass can heal breaks when you press them together by hand, without any need for heat. The study was published in the magazine Science, and was lead by Professor Takuzo Aida from the University of Tokyo. He claims that this could not only be used for phones, but for "other fragile devices" such as tablets and laptops.
"High mechanical robustness and healing ability tend to be mutually exclusive," the study reads. "In most cases, heating to high temperatures, on the order of 120°C or more, to reorganise their cross-linked networks, is necessary for the fractured portions to repair".
The self-healing properties of the material were actually discovered by accident, as graduate student Yu Yanagisawa was developing a glue at the time. When they cut the polymer, they found that the edges stuck together, then would become one again after being manually compressed for 30 seconds at 21°C, making it the "first hard substance of its kind that can be healed at room temperature".
This isn't the first time that such a solution has been suggested. Researchers at the University of California proposed the use of polymer, claiming that it could stretch to 50 times its original size and heal within 24 hours. However, this is the first time it has been successfully put into practice.
Apparently, some phone manufacturers have already started to use self-healing materials in their products, but not to this level. In 2015 LG’s G Flex 2 phone was released, with a coating on its back that was capable of healing minor scratches over time. While that was an interesting step forward, heavier damage to the screen is something many of us would be glad to have.