Scientists at MIT University in the USA have created a new innovative material, which is more powerful than steel, but lightweight as plastic. The achievement was made possible by something that had been considered impossible until now: A new process of multilateralism in two dimensions. The new material can, in fact, be easily produced in large quantities.
The researchers, led by Professor Michael Strano of the Department of Chemical Engineering of MIT, who made the relevant publication in the journal “Nature”, created a two-dimensional polymer that is self-assembling in successive sheets, unlike the other polymers that form one-dimensional chains of the “spaghetti” type. Until now, scientists believed that it was impossible to “force” polymers to form two-dimensional sheets.
The new material could be used as a lightweight but durable coating on car parts, as a building material for bridges or other structures, as well as in other applications (e.g. military).
As Strano stated, “we usually don’t think of plastics as something we can use to support a building, but with new material one can do new things thanks to its very unusual properties.”
Polymers, which include all plastics, consist of chains of monomers, which can be enlarged by adding new molecules to their edges. After their creation, polymers can be formed into three-dimensional objects (e.g. water bottles).
Polymer experts have long believed that if it were possible to form two-dimensional sheets, they would create light but powerful materials, something that has now – for the first time – become a reality, after fruitless decades of research, which had disappointed the researchers and led them to the conclusion that such a thing is unattainable.
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Thanks to the new polymerization process discovered in MIT, it is now possible for monomers to form two-dimensional polymers in the form of disks that are “stacked” on top of each other, with hydrogen bonds to hold the discs together and give stability and durability to the whole structure. In this way, thin films are created that can be mass-produced.
As its tests have shown, the new material has only 1/16o of the density of steel, but in order to break it one has to apply twice as much force as on the steel to break the latter. It is also impervious to gases or water, which is not the case with other polymers. The researchers have already filed two new technology patents to patent their invention.
image: (Christine Daniloff, MIT)