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Ultrastrong Plastic

November 1, 2007

Engineers have created a plastic that’s as strong as steel, but lighter.


Super-strong plastic. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A new plastic has the load-bearing strength of steel, yet it’s transparent, lightweight, and can be made at room temperature. Chemical engineer Nicholas Kotov and his colleagues at the University of Michigan created the material. They make it by alternating incredibly thin layers of clay with a polymer that binds to it.

NICHOLAS KOTOV (University of Michigan):
And keep on just adding these layers, one after the other.

One key to its strength lies in the chemical bonds between the polymer and the clay particles, which can re-attach immediately after separating. And although it takes about 300 layers to make a sheet as thick as household plastic wrap, it’s the first time anyone’s made a polymer this strong above the molecular scale. Future applications might include tough electronics components and lightweight military body armor. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.