Protections from pollutants are crucial for frontline workers. Image Source: Flickr User: Tar Sands Blockade

If popular culture were to be believed, chemically protective suits only get pulled out to deal with deadly contagions or alien invasions. In real life, these flashy outfits are commonly used for protection in cases of large scale chemical dispersion, accidental toxic chemical release and in certain high containment laboratory situations. The main problem with these futuristic-looking suits is that anytime the material begins to deteriorate, it can render the suit partially or entirely useless. A group of researchers out the United States has recently published a paper detailing a way to make textiles such as these self-healing.1  Enzymes may then be added to this self-correcting coating to further the protective efforts of personal protection equipment. As researchers move forward and look at the implications and potential integrations of this technology, both within the film and applications of the film, a comprehensive computer system will be a valuable investment.

Creating Self-Healing Materials

The desire for self-healing materials is nothing new and research into inherent repair mechanisms has been going on for quite a while. As researchers look to integrate self-correcting properties into different materials, there are two primary design principles:

  • Physical: This approach uses capsules, microcapsules or pathways filled with healing agents or a stress-relaxation mechanism. An example of this would be slide-ring materials. They function via movement and crosslinking of ring molecules threaded by an axle polymer. The “ring” itself is highly flexible, elastic and has self-healing abilities.
  • Chemical: This approach involves reversible covalent and noncovalent bonds between different residues. Examples of these bonds may include hydrogen bonds, reversible chemical reactions, electrostatic interactions and – stacking.

Authors of one paper2 hypothesized that using both physical and chemical self-healing mechanisms would produce a more effective product. Assessing chemical properties and looking at the potential chemical binding properties of self-healing macromolecules, such as polyrotaxanes, can be done using comprehensive computer modelling. Many macromolecules and polymers do have other, smaller chemical interactions which can be exploited for self-healing purposes, should they be harnessed and refined with the aid of modern lab software. This group in particular was able to successfully develop a self-healing material that can work in wet and semi-wet conditions, a novel discovery, that employs polyrotaxanes connected by covalent bonds.

The addition of the covalent bonds to the already recognized self-healing material allows the traditional slide-ring system of physical healing ability to be maintained while adding additional flexibility in terms of chemical healing. There is still ample work needed to move this discovery towards a non-wet system, but it is a massive step in the right direction.

Adding in Additional Protection

Autonomous repair response in the case of personal protective equipment is the goal, but if this self-correcting system goes so far as to provide an additional layer of protection, that’s even better. The researchers that worked to develop the film to coat textiles created a polyelectrolyte layer-by-layer film which contained squid ring teeth proteins. This odd combination ended up being elastic and self-healing in both dry and wet conditions due to the unique semi-crystalline architecture of the proteins. The authors showed its potential use with most conventional textiles, such as wool and cotton.

The extent of this particular function should be more heavily investigated with the aid of innovative lab software, as we look to reduce waste from “fast fashion.” Furthermore, they explored and showed the possible use of a composite enzyme-SRT self-healing film and showed that enzyme activity remained even after the self-healing properties were used over a large wound. Further implications of the types of enzymes, such as custom enzymes for particular pollutants or chemicals, look promising.

Modelling the integration of these enzymes into the film as the film continues to be refined, can all be done using one comprehensive computer software platform, that models various aspects of the chemical and enzymatic properties of these materials. With BIOVIA Materials Studio, comprehensive models can be created to allow researchers to better predict what will work in terms of enzyme integration and self-healing properties, bringing your research to the market faster. Please contact us today to learn more about how our software options can support the efforts of your lab.

  1. “Self-Healing Textile: Enzyme Encapsulated Layer-by-Layer Structural Proteins,” July 15, 2016, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acsami.6b05232
  2. “Self-Healing Materials Formed by Cross-Linked Polyrotaxanes with Reversible Bonds,” November 10, 2016, http://www.cell.com/chem/pdf/S2451-9294(16)30158-9.pdf