This ‘Skin’ Is as Hard as Artificial Tooth Enamel and Can Heal Itself


Image: Yang et al
In 1941, George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer, noticed his dog was covered in burrs after a long walk in the Alps. Fourteen years and many microscope slides later, de Mestral patented the hooked design for Velcro, inspired by the burrs. Velcro is probably the most well-known form of biomimicry, or human-made designs based on natural structures.

By Rebecca Flowers | MOTHERBOARD

Since then, slug mucus has inspired surgical glue, lotus leaves have helped create self-cleaning surfaces, and spider silk has been harnessed to create super-strong fibers.

The most recent iteration is a self-healing polymer that mimics human skin and is as hard as artificial tooth enamel, described in a study published today by ACS Nano.

“We have been always amazed by the power of nature to create sophisticated structures using [the] most elegant way,” Ming Yang, the senior author on this study and professor at the Harbin Institute of Technology in China, told me via email. Yang and his co-authors modeled the material they developed after human skin, setting out to create a polymer that is both self-healing and hard.

When the epidermis, the thick outermost layer of skin, is damaged, cells from the softer layer underneath migrate to the top to heal the injury, hardening and becoming dead cells to protect the live layers beneath.

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