We might soon say goodbye to broken phone screens, thanks to a student who accidentally invented self-healing glass.

Researchers from the University of Tokyo in Japan reportedly developed a self-healing glass. Yes, you read that right. According to a paper published by the Japanese researchers in the journal Science, the new form of glass is capable of repairing itself after being shattered.

This latest discovery is another breakthrough in the smartphone industry. Just imagine not worrying about accidentally dropping your expensive iPhone X or Galaxy Note 8.

That sounds like good news to us consumers, but not so for the glass manufacturing industry.

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The semi-transparent polymer, dubbed as polyether-thioureas, as per the researchers, could knit itself back together when compressed for several hours after being shattered. Unlike other self-healing materials today, the new glass doesn’t need high levels of heat or special equipment to reform. It could be pressed together using bare hands at room temperature.

Discovery of the Self-Healing Glass

What makes the new self-healing glass interesting is that it was actually discovered by accident by a graduate school student named Yu Yanagisawa while trying to make glue. Yanagisawa observed how the cut edges of the polymer stick back together despite their rigid and non-tacky nature.

“High mechanical robustness and healing ability tend to be mutually exclusive,” the researchers wrote on their paper. They pointed out that existing hard healable materials today must be subjected to high-temperature heating, mostly around 120°C or more, for their cross-linked networks to reorganize and allow the fractured portions to repair themselves.

To date, scientists have already come up with rubber, plastic, and concrete self-healing materials. Earlier this year, it was reported that Motorola patented a display that fixes its own cracks when heated. However, Yanagisawa and his team’s self-healing glass still has the upper hand since it can heal itself at room temperature.

It was said that Yanagisawa’s newly discovered polymer could once again form a strong sheet after being manually compressed for just 30 seconds at 21°C.

In an interview with NHK, Yanagisawa said that he repeated his experiments multiple times to confirm his findings. Right now, he hopes that the self-healing glass will become an environment-friendly material.

“I hope the repairable glass becomes a new environment-friendly material that avoids the need to be thrown away if broken.”

This is not the first time that researchers proposed polymer as a healable material for devices like smartphones. Earlier this year, researchers from the University of California suggested the use of polymers that heal breaks after 24 hours and could stretch up to 50 times its original size.

Currently, the development of self-healing glasses could be deemed as a significant game changer in the smartphone industry. While it might affect the cost of mobile phones should smartphone manufacturers use healable materials in the future, it could still save consumers hundreds of dollars in costly glass repairs.

Are you excited to own a smartphone equipped with a self-healing glass? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

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