Every once in a while the plastics industry can lay claim to a real gee-whiz technological breakthrough that captures the attention of a big segment of the population.
The latest is the development of an epoxy composite that can repair itself. The material was created by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The story was featured in a major spread in the serious scientific periodical Nature, and was Page 1 news in the Washington Post. The Chicago Sun-Times and other major dailies also covered the story, and many more newspapers picked up Associated Press or United Press International reports on the technology.
What was it about this news that drew so many readers? Certainly there's a Frankenstein factor to this story: scientists taking a nonliving item and infusing it with the ability to heal itself. There's also a better-living-through-technology angle that readers crave. People want to believe in cold fusion, in fuel-cell-powered automobiles, in artificial hearts, in Viagra, and in computerized houses that prepare meals while you're still commuting home in your portable helicopter or on a high-speed train suspended on superconducting magnets.
Many of the technologies that get so much attention when they are first disclosed never really live up to their initial promise. Still, consumers keep hope alive that a breakthrough in fuel-cell technology, as reported in this issue, or the recent self-healing composite story, eventually will change their lives like the telephone, fax machine or personal computer.
Or like plastics themselves.