MRS Bulletin

Technical Feature

Technical Feature

Bioinspired Materials for Self-Cleaning and Self-Healing

Jeffrey P. Youngblood and Nancy R. Sottos


Biological systems have the ability to sense, react, regulate, grow, regenerate, and heal. Recent advances in materials chemistry and micro- and nanoscale fabrication techniques have enabled biologically inspired materials systems that mimic many of these remarkable functions. This issue of MRS Bulletin highlights two promising classes of bioinspired materials systems: surfaces that can self-clean and polymers that can self-heal. Self-cleaning surfaces are based on the superhydrophobic effect, which causes water droplets to roll off with ease, carrying away dirt and debris. Design of these surfaces is inspired by the hydrophobic micro- and nanostructures of a lotus leaf. Self-healing materials are motivated by biological systems in which damage triggers a site-specific, autonomic healing response. Self-healing has been achieved using several different approaches for storing and triggering healing functionality in the polymer. In this issue, we examine the most successful strategies for self-cleaning and self-healing materials and discuss future research directions and opportunities for commercial applications.

Jeffrey P. Youngblood, Guest Editor for this issue of MRS Bulletin, can be reached at the School of Materials Engineering, Neil A. Armstrong Hall of Engineering, 701 West Stadium Ave., Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA; tel. 765–496–2294, and e-mail

Youngblood is as assistant professor of materials engineering at Purdue University. He did his undergraduate studies at Louisiana State University, majoring in chemistry and physics. Working in the laboratory of William Daly, Youngblood spent three years working on compatibilization, aging, and thermomechanical investigation of asphalt/polymer blends and the synthesis of liquid crystalline nonlinear optical polymers. In 2001, Youngblood completed his PhD degree at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering—under the tutelage of Thomas McCarthy—after having investigated the ultrahydrophobic (lotus) effect, developing general methods for chemical surface modification of polymers and synthesizing pendant siloxane block copolymers. Moving on to postdoctoral work at Cornell University's Materials Science and Engineering Department under the direction of Christopher Ober, Youngblood developed synthetic strategies for the development of coatings that prevent marine biofouling. In 2003, Youngblood accepted a position in the School of Materials Engineering at Purdue University. In recent years, the Youngblood laboratory has investigated a variety of fields including the biocompatibilization, activity enhancement, and understanding of surface properties of polymeric quaternary biocides; electrospinning of carbide, nitride, and functional ceramics; processing of ultrahigh temperature materials; stimuliresponsive anomalous wetting and anti-fog materials; adhesives; techniques for modification of surfaces to control wettability; and, of course, self-cleaning surfaces.

Nancy R. Sottos, Guest Editor for this issue of MRS Bulletin, can be reached at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1304 W. Green St., Urbana, IL 61801, USA; e-mail

Sottos is the Donald B. Willet Professor of Engineering in the Departments of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Sottos started her faculty career at UIUC after earning her BS and PhD degrees in 1986 and 1991, respectively, in mechanical engineering from the University of Delaware. In addition to her position at UIUC, she also is a co-chair of the Molecular and Electronic Nanostructures Research Initiative at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and a University Scholar. Sottos' research group studies the mechanics of complex, heterogeneous materials, such as selfhealing polymers, advanced composites, thin-film devices, and microelectronic packaging, specializing in micro- and nanoscale characterization of deformation and failure in these material systems. Her work on self-healing polymers was recognized by Scientific American's SciAm 50 Award for research demonstrating outstanding technological leadership in 2007.

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