Dinghy, heal thyself!

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A new material developed by two French researchers could change the face of the boating industry.

The material, which has yet to be given a name, is a form of rubber made from vegetable oil and urea, a component of urine. It produces surfaces that, when cut, retain a strong chemical attraction to each other, forcing the material to join together again, according to BBC News.

Conventional rubber stays together through billions of chemical welds known as “covalent bonds” that cannot be remade when broken.

In creating a self-healing rubber-like material, contributing researcher Ludwick Leibler of the Industrial Physics and Chemistry Higher Educational Institution (ESPCI) in Paris says they replaced the covalent bonds with weaker connections known as hydrogen bonds. The bonds work like tiny hands: they let go when broken, but can clasp onto each other again if pushed together, Leibler says.

If the product is successful, it could change the effectiveness of life rafts, inflated dinghies and other marine products, according to The Log nautical newspaper.

“You can feel the material mending itself when you hold the fractured sides,” says Leibler.

— Elizabeth Ellis