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Cell scaffold blood-brain-barrier. (Credit: A. Marino/ Smart Bio-Interfaces, IIT Pontedera)

Researchers often have to compromise between strength and the ability to self-repair when developing coating materials. Now one team has developed a smart coating that is as hard as tooth enamel on the outside but can heal itself like skin can. The smart coating market is a booming industry and is only expected to grow in upcoming years. In previous research, the team had produced a stiffer, more healable coating, but its performance still needed to be optimized. The new coating is a soft, yet hard, self-healing material.

Mimicking the structure of human skin, the researchers used a layer-by-layer technique to form a soft, dynamic under layer containing polyvinyl alcohol and tannic acid. The hard outer layer contained these compounds plus a layer of graphene oxide. When fabricated at a certain thickness, the material successfully healed itself when cut. It also could kill bacteria. The researchers say the material could someday serve as an electronic skin.

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