Chemists at Trinity College, Dublin have invented self-healing luminescent gels with potential uses in science, medicine and electronics. Through the interaction between individual molecules (ligands) and europium and terbium ions, gels can be created which emit a luminous colour of choice when light is shined through. The luminous qualities of europium and terbium are already used in luminescent counterfeiting in Euro notes, but in the form of these gels, there are a multitude of new uses.
The luminescent quality means the gels can be used as indicators in sensors -changing colour when something changes in the immediate environment; uses in biomedical imaging and drug delivery within cells are 2 areas currently being investigated.
Aside from the luminescent quality of the gels, scientists are also excited about their ‘self-healing’ abilities. Dr Oxana Kotova, of Trinity College explains that “Because the gels exist as large networks of molecules, whose many individual weak interactions together form a much stronger matrix, they can be ‘pulled apart’ from any angle. However, these same properties mean that the gels will re-form, or ‘self-heal’ when meeting other gels of the same type.”
This property has potential uses for seamlessly repairing not only smartphones and other screens or metallic surfaces, but also human skin. The team believes that “if we could find ways to make these gels biodegradable, there is no reason why we couldn’t use them to heal up patients’ wounds perfectly”.