Structural polymeric materials incorporating a microencapsulated liquid healing agent demonstrate the ability to autonomously heal cracks. Understanding how an advancing crack interacts with the microcapsules is critical to optimizing performance through tailoring the size, distribution and density of these capsules. For the first time, time-lapse synchrotron X-ray phase contrast computed tomography (CT) has been used to observe in three-dimensions (3D) the dynamic process of crack growth, microcapsule rupture and progressive release of solvent into a crack as it propagates and widens, providing unique insights into the activation and repair process. In this epoxy self-healing material, 150 µm diameter microcapsules within 400 µm of the crack plane are found to rupture and contribute to the healing process, their discharge quantified as a function of crack propagation and distance from the crack plane. Significantly, continued release of solvent takes place to repair the crack as it grows and progressively widens.
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