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Self-Healing Connections – SHeMat Report

SHeMat Group

Two of Bristol’s self-healing researchers, Jack Cullinan & Patryk Jarzynka, have just returned from the inaugural, highly successful SHeMat training school in Freiburg, Germany. SHeMat is a European-wide consortium of 13 academic and industry partners, employing 11 PhD students and 4 post-docs, aimed at developing self-healing technologies in a range of engineering materials. The first training school was kindly hosted by Prof’s O. and T. Speck of the Plant Biomechanics Group, University of Freiburg.

Bio-Inspiration as a Tool to Novel Technical Solutions

The first few days of the training school was spent looking at some bio-inspired success stories such as the Flectofin® and various other ways in which nature can inspire future engineering designs. This exposure to botany and bio-technology was to prove highly enlightening for many members of the group who’s background was primarily in ‘classical’ engineering, chemistry, physics or materials science. Conversely, this was also a great opportunity for the botanists and bio-technologists within the consortium to explain some of the engineering challenges faced when working with biological materials.

Thomas at work during a tour of the botanical gardens

During this time, overview presentations of the individual projects were made by each of the fellows to the rest of the consortium. Each presentation was then followed by a comprehensive discussion in which researchers from other fields could gain valuable insights into new materials and techniques. A number of public lectures related to bio-inspired self-healing were also given by Prof Wolfgang Binder (Martin-Luther University), Prof Annette Schmidt (University of Cologne), Prof Anke Nellesen (Bochum University) & Dr Markus Rampf (formerly University of Freiburg).

Assessment of Self-Healing Capabilities

The second half of the training school was aimed at working towards developing a standardised method for the assessment of self-healing. A major difficulty experienced by self-healing researchers the world over is how to report on self-healing efficacy. It became immediately apparent that ‘healing’ is not only a function of the material but also the application. Simply put, this means that similar materials used for different purposes may not have a common assessment criteria.

Through a series of energetic and sometimes animated open discussions it was possible to highlight the various issues with a universal scalar. It is hoped that as a direct result of this consortium, a higher degree of standardisation may be achieved for future reporting on self-healing. A number of public lectures were given by Prof Rolf Mülhaupt (University of Freiburg) and Prof Peter Fratzl (Max Planck Institute).

Our sincerest thanks again to all those involved in the planning and organisation of such a great training school. We (and hopefully everyone else!) are very much looking forward to the next training school, to be hosted by ourselves in the University of Bristol in 2014.