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Could Self-Healing Metal be Part of The Future of Construction?

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently discovered that some metals appear to “heal” themselves under certain conditions.  Graduate student Guoqiang Xu and Michael Demkowicz, a professor of science and engineering at the university, found that when a separating pressure was applied to a cracked piece of a nickel superalloy with which they were working, instead of the crack widening it appeared to fuse together.  The metal appeared to heal itself.

An article in MIT News explained what the research team discovered:

“Most metals are made of tiny crystalline grains whose sizes and orientations can affect strength and other characteristics.  But under certain conditions, Demkowicz and Xu found, stress ‘causes the microstructure to change: It can make grain boundaries migrate.  This grain boundary migration is the key to healing the crack,’ Demkowicz says. ...

“Having discovered this mechanism, the researchers plan to study how to design metal alloys so cracks would close and heal under loads typical of particular applications.  Techniques for controlling the microstructure of alloys already exist, Demkowicz says, so it’s just a matter of figuring out how to achieve a desired result.”

According to an article by Chris Gayomali in the magazine The Week, this discovery “could change the way we approach architecture, industrial design, cars – you name it.”  Gayomali humorously writes that this technology is not yet equal to the metal of the T-1000 cyborgs from the Terminator movies, but that the idea that one day we might see “self-healing bridges or highway overpasses in, say, earthquake-prone San Francisco” is certainly intriguing.

Intriguing indeed.

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