Employing a new polymerization process, chemical engineers at MIT have fabricated a new material that is stronger than steel and light as plastic, and can be easily manufactured in large amounts.
Structurally, the new material is a 2D polymer that assembles itself into sheets, which is a stark difference from all other polymers that form one-dimensional spaghetti-like chains. So far, scientists believed it was impossible to incite polymers to create 2D sheets.
The material obtained could be used as a lightweight long-lasting coating for cell phones, car parts, or as building material for bridges or other structures
Plastics are usually not considered to be used to support a building. However, with this material, it can enable new things. The new material has unusual properties and this is exciting.
Importantly, researchers have filed two patents on the process that is used to produce the material. The findings of the initiative are described in a paper in Nature.
Polymers, which comprise all types of plastics consist of chains of basic elements called monomers. The chains grow by adding new molecules on the ends. Once created, injection molding can be used to shape polymers into three-dimensional objects such as water bottles using injection molding.
In fact, for long, polymer scientists have theorized that if polymers could be incited to develop into a two-dimensional sheet, it would result into extremely strong and lightweight materials.
Nonetheless, despite decades of work in this field it led to the conclusion that it was impossible to create such sheets. One possible reason for this if only one monomer circulates up or down, outside the plane of the expanding sheet, the material will begin elongating in three dimensions and the sheet-like structure will not be retained.