An elusive goal in materials science is designing systems that mimic the remarkable ability of amphibians to re-grow limbs. While self-healing materials can mend local defects, there are virtually no examples of materials that can regenerate themselves. The advent of such regenerative materials could dramatically extend the useful lifetime of manufactured products.
Through new computational models, we design a nanorod-filled gel that effectively regenerates the gel matrix when a layer of the material is sliced-off. With this layer removed, the nanorods diffuse to the newly formed interface and extend into the outer solution, which contains monomers and a small fraction of cross-linkers. Polymerization initiated from the rods’ surfaces leads to chains that become cross-linked to form a new gel that resembles the severed layer. After the initial cut, the regeneration requires no external intervention; synergistic interactions among all components in this system enable the vital processes leading to re-growth, which could be repeated with subsequent cuts.