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Although the last decade has brought self-healing materials to the forefront of scientific interests, combining repair and sensing attributes into one material entity have not been addressed. These studies report the development of poly(methyl methacrylate/n-butylacrylate/2-[(1,3,3-trimethyl-1,3-dihydrospiro[indole-2,3′-naphtho[2,1-b][1,4]oxazin]-5-yl)amino]ethyl-2-methylacrylate) [p(MMA/nBA/SNO)] copolymer films that upon mechanical scratch undergo color changes from clear to red in the damaged area, but upon exposure to sunlight, temperature and/or acidic vapors, the damaged area is self-repaired and the initial colorless appearance is recovered. The process is reversible and driven by the ring-opening-closure of spironapthoxazine (SNO) segments to form merocyanine (MC), which are recovered back to the SNO form. Upon mechanical damage, SNO segments of the neighboring copolymer segments form inter-molecular H-bonding that stabilizes copolymer backbone, that remains in an extended conformation. External stimuli, such as light, temperature, or acidic environments cause a dissociation of the H-bonded MC pairs, which are converted back to SNO. This process is associated with the p(MMA/nBA/SNO) backbone collapse, thus pulling entangled neighboring copolymers to fill removed mass and repair a scratch. Mechanical nano-indentation analysis combined with molecular modeling and spectroscopic measurements confirm this behavior. The enclosed video clip illustrates molecular repair processes induced by visible light monitored by in situRaman imaging spectroscopy. These materials may find numerous future applications, where coupling of simultaneous color changes and reversible self-repair responses may lead to new technological paradigms.
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