London: Scratched cars and scuffed shoes may soon be the things of past, as scientists have developed a "self-healing" plastic coating that smoothes away marks and blemishes within seconds.
What is more, it doesn't seem to matter how many times an area is damaged as it can be tricked into repairing itself time and time again, researches at the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland claimed.
This breakthrough, according to them, would make the "metallo-supramolecular polymer" a boon for motorists who have trouble parking, as well as for women who find their new shoes get scuffed within hours of using, the Daily Mail reported.
Handbags, furniture, windows, wooden floors, punctured tyres and even spectacles could all be made as good as new, sparing customers the time money and frustration involved in fixing cuts, scrapes and scuffs, the researchers said.
Lead researcher Professor Stuart Rowan said: "What we have developed is a new plastic material composed of very small chains that stick together and assemble into much larger chains.
"What we have designed into the material is the ability to disassemble on exposure to light. When it disassembles, the material flows into the crack and the system gets healed."
The "ingenious and transformative" plastic, according to the researchers, is made up of long chains of hydrocarbons "glued" together by tiny plugs of metal.
When UV light is shone on it, the metal generates heat and the surrounding plastic melts -- oozing into any scratches or scuffs. In tests, detailed in the journal Nature, deep scratches made with a razor blade took less than a minute to close up.
When the light was switched off, the plastic coating solidified again and appeared as good as new. The researchers have likened the process to the skin
healing over a cut, leaving no trace of the injury. But in this case, there is no need for stitches and the transformation takes seconds rather than days or weeks.
Working with military researchers and Swiss chemists, Professor Rowan showed that the same piece of material could be scratched and mended again and again without any ill-effects.
He used a lamp similar to those used by dentists to cure fillings. But in time, car washes could be equipped with UV lamps, meaning that vehicles emerge with paintwork that is flawless, as well as polished.
Although self-healing plastics have been created before, most used powerful blasts of heat to kick-start the repair process. Using UV light makes it faster, easier and more accurate, said fellow researcher Mark Burnworth.
"By using light, we have more control as it allows us to target only the defect and leave the rest of the material untouched," added Burnworth.