The tyre as we know it could change drastically in the coming years or decades after scientists at Harvard University invented a form of rubber that can heal itself.

Created by Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the rubber goes one step beyond other self-healing materials on the market.

Typically, self-healing materials rely on water to incorporate reversible bonds engineered to promote healing. However, developing a self-healing rubber was much more difficult because it is made from polymers connected by permanent, covalent bonds which can’t reconnect once broken.

To overcome the problem, researchers have developed a hybrid rubber with covalent and reversible bonds that are tied together by a so-called ‘molecular rope’ made up of randomly branched polymers. The finished product is flexible and strong and rather than puncturing like traditional rubber, remains connected by fibrous strands that redistribute the stress and snap back to position.

Harvard has applied to patent the technology and its uses could be comprehensive, particularly in the automotive world.

“Imagine that we could use this material as one of the components to make a rubber tire,” Sichuan University professor Jinrong Wu said. “If you have a cut through the tire, this tire wouldn’t have to be replaced right away. Instead, it would self-heal while driving enough to give you leeway to avoid dramatic damage.”

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