Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently announced the development of a polymer that can not only heal itself, but also regenerate. Like human skin, self-healing materials can repair small, internal cracks. The new regenerating polymer can go even further, restoring large breaks or openings in the material.

The research team emulated biological models to incorporate parallel capillaries within the material. When punctured, the capillaries release two complementary liquids that together form a regenerative gel, similar to a blood-clotting phenomenon. The gel fills the damaged area, eventually hardening into a polymer that is structurally compatible with the surrounding material.

“Vascular delivery lets us deliver a large volume of healing agents – which… also enables multiple restorations if the material is damaged more than once,” said Nancy Sottos, a research team member and professor of materials science and engineering at the university.

Scott White, the research team’s leader and a mechanical engineer and professor at the university, said the technology could have applications in automotive, aerospace and other mechanical industries. Eventually, when it is more affordable, the material could also be used in high-abuse architectural settings.