Scientists have developed a new material that could solve one of the most annoying issues faced by smartphone users.
The material is transparent, highly stretchable, conductive and most importantly, self-healing. It literally repairs itself when cracked or torn, according to news.com.au.
Created by chemists at the University of California at Riverside and the University of Colorado, it will likely have numerous uses in robotics and consumer electronics and could ultimately make your cracked iPhone screen a thing of the past.
"Creating a material with all these properties has been a puzzle for years," one of the leading researchers Chao Wang said in a statement.
"We did that and now are just beginning to explore the applications."
Perhaps due to their ubiquity, some people have gone so far as to suggest a broken phone screen is a status symbol - a testament to one's high-paced life.
But for those of us who aren't keen to prove our social mobility by breaking our stuff, such a material could be a godsend.
Speaking to Science Daily, Dr Wang said the team conducted a number of experiments on the material's ability to repair itself.
In one instance, after being torn in half, it automatically stitched itself back together in under 24 hours.
According to his university, Dr Wang developed an interest in self-healing materials because of his lifelong love of Wolverine, the comic book character who has the ability to self-heal.
"He could save the world, but only because he could heal himself. A self-healing material, when carved into two parts, can go back together like nothing has happened, just like our human skin," he said.
"I've been researching making a self-healing lithium ion battery, so when you drop your cell phone, it could fix itself and last much longer."
The low-cost, easy to produce soft rubber-like material can stretch to 50 times its original length.
Dr Wang believes such a material will be used in the manufacturing of mobile phones "very soon".
And because the material can conduct electricity, it could be used to provide scratch resistant and incredibly durable smartphone screens.
SO HOW DID THEY DEVELOP IT?
The research was published in the journal Advanced Material back in December but has received widespread attention since the research team presented their work at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, on Tuesday in the US.
The secret to developing the material was producing a forgiving chemical bond between molecules that was stable under electrochemical conditions.
Very basically, as Dr Wang explained, there are two types of bonds that exist in materials.
These are covalent bonds, which are strong and don't reform once broken, and non-covalent bonds, which are more dynamic and lend themselves to.
For example, the hydrogen bonds that connect water molecules to one another are non-covalent, giving water its fluid properties.
However the materials made out of substances with such bonds are not suitable for ionic conductors (necessary for the use in electronics) because they are affected by electrochemical reactions which diminish performance.
The team helped solve that problem by using a mechanism called an ion-dipole interaction, which is the force between charged ions and polar molecules. It's highly stabile under electrochemical conditions, the university said.
By combining the stretchable polymer with a mobile, high-ionic-strength salt, the researchers were able to create the properties they wanted.