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Materials that can regenerate

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I saw a nice documentary about modern materials yesterday. One of them brought up an interesting concept... which as far as I know is yet to exist, but would be fantastic if it did: Materials that can regenerate.


The idea was that via smart materials, objects (such as buildings) could use a system to heal themselves, similar to how biological organisms heal wounds. If you cut your arm, the cut eventually closes and heals without leaving a permanent sign (in most cases). So the idea would be that if someone crashes into a bridge and cracks its side, the material detects the crack and dispatches tiny structures which leak the same material in place to glue the crack. Such tiny structures can be bacteria designed in the lab for this purpose, or even nanobots... or who knows, something even simpler.


Is this idea realistically possible, and has it been attempted so far?

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I'm too old to answer "impossible". And I read the description of some attempts.


Organisms can regenerate parts, but this is not a property of just a material. Skin or muscle alone won't repair itself. They use antibodies, anticlotting agents, glucose and oxygen, hormones - and probably more which we still ignore. In comparison, our attempts are rudimentary.


Some human attempts are materials, not organisms, that self-repair to a very limited extent. Things like polymers that stick together after a cut.


Other human attempts are collections of robots that replace an other if it fails, and possibly reconstruct a new one.


My vague impression (not having checked the subject in detail) is that these two human approches cannot be as good as what Nature does. It will need us to build organisms to attain self-healing. Ouch.

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