Here comes “organic technology”

The holy grail of the Babylon 5[*1] science fiction universe, organic technology referred to technology that was grown, not manufactured.  (Yes, the “holy grail” reference was intended, B5-heads.)

Well, here we go, a couple of centuries ahead of schedule (Air Force press release):

Air Force Funds Research on Self-Healing Materials[*2]

By Maria Callier Air Force Office of Scientific Research Public Affairs (Quantech)

Arlington, Va., July 30th, 2007 – A research team at the University of Illinois, funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, is creating new, cutting-edge structural microvascular materials which will have repetitive, self-healing capabilities as well as self-cooling behavior.

Professor Scott White and his colleagues are developing a technique for fabricating three-dimensional microvascular networks inspired by human skins or plant leaves.

“By using the networks to carry the healing agent, the study demonstrated that the performance of self-healing materials can be further improved by incorporating a circulatory system and continuously transporting an unlimited supply of healing agent, significantly extending the lifetime of the material,” explained B.L. Lee, program manager for AFOSR’s Mechanics of Multifunctional Materials and Microsystems. “This is a very exciting event and an important beginning for new technology.”

The Air Force will benefit from the research because these materials have multifunctional behavior in an integrated system and will provide capabilities that have never been achieved before.

The research team continues to face challenges as it moves forward.

“We are developing new healing and protection schemes for our healing components that will provide the level of environmental stability that is needed,” said Mr. White. “We are also pursuing research targeted towards fabrication methods to build large, structural parts using robotic techniques.”

The team plans to design and build optimized microvascular networks for highly efficient and structural materials that can heal repeatedly with no loss in performance as damage accumulates.

“We are also targeting the integration of two types of functionality in a single material system – healing and cooling,” said Mr. White. “In this case, the fluids that are circulated within the material will do double duty by providing the building blocks for structural healing as well as a conduit for extracting thermal energy and cooling the parent material.”

By funding self-healing materials research, AFOSR continues to expand the horizon of scientific knowledge. AFOSR is part of Air Force Materiel Command’s Air Force Research Laboratory.