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Super-Light Plastic As Strong as Steel

Zonk posted about 7 years ago | from the mini-factory-with-micro-workers dept.

Biotech 226

Roland Piquepaille writes "A new composite plastic built layer by layer has been created by engineers at the University of Michigan. This plastic is as strong as steel. It has been built the same way as mother-of-pearl, and shows similar strength. Interestingly, this 300-layer plastic has been built with 'strong' nanosheets of clay and a 'fragile' polymer called polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), commonly used in paints and glue, which acts as 'Velcro' to envelop the nanoparticles. This new plastic could soon be used to design light but strong armors for soldiers or police officers. The researchers also think this material could be used in biomedical sensors and unmanned aircraft."

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I hear.. (2, Funny)

valkabo (840034) | about 7 years ago | (#20874149)

I hear the wicked witch of the west is made of this stuff..

It's made of layers of clay nanosheets and a water-soluble polymer that shares chemistry with white glue

How quaint! (4, Funny)

daeley (126313) | about 7 years ago | (#20874169)

McCoy: You realize that by giving him the formula you're altering history.

Scotty: Why? How do we know he didn't invent the thing?

Re:How quaint! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20874197)

Yea yea, you read the fark headline.

Re:How quaint! (3, Insightful)

McFadden (809368) | about 7 years ago | (#20874913)

Yea yea, you read the fark headline.
Given that it was the first thought that entered my head when I read the headline (and probably that of every true geek) I wouldn't be so quick to judge.

Re:How quaint! (3, Funny)

UncleTogie (1004853) | about 7 years ago | (#20875451)

Given that it was the first thought that entered my head when I read the headline (and probably that of every true geek) I wouldn't be so quick to judge.

Amen. I was just about to try to tag it "transparent aluminum"...

Re:How quaint! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20874593)

Hehe, yeah... Star Trek 4 - The Voyage Home

"How thick would one piece of your plexiglass need to be at sixty feet by ten feet, to withstand the pressure of 18.000 cubic feet of water?"

- Best Regards, Bo (Trux) Simmons -

- "Computer... Computer?"
Dr. McCoy hands Scotty the computer mouse.
"Hello computer", Scotty says kindly into the microphone (mouse).
-"Just use the keyboard!"

Re:How quaint! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20875363)

Asimov predicted this one in the original Foundation series - it was called Plasteel.

Obvious use (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20874175)

The researchers also think this material could be used in biomedical sensors and unmanned aircraft."
And swords. Don't forget swords.

Link with pics (5, Informative)

Spy der Mann (805235) | about 7 years ago | (#20874181)

http://www.dailytech.com/Transparent+Plastic+Polymer+is+Strong+as+Steel/article9181.htm [dailytech.com]

When i saw the title i imagined something more like bulletproof glass, but, as you can see, it's pretty thin.

Re:Link with pics (3, Interesting)

debilo (612116) | about 7 years ago | (#20874229)

When i saw the title i imagined something more like bulletproof glass, but, as you can see, it's pretty thin.
Thanks for the link. I wonder if this could be used as a scratch-resistant coating for sensitive surfaces. I'm thinking of my iPod and my mobile phone. Or even the windshield, loose chippings can be so annoying.

Re:Link with pics (5, Informative)

kebes (861706) | about 7 years ago | (#20874419)

The technique they are describing is called "Electrostatic Layer-by-Layer Deposition", and the resultant materials are called polyelectrolyte multilayers [wikipedia.org] . Basically you dip a substrate alternately into baths of different polymers, with each step depositing a thin layer of polymer. These materials have been studied for the last decade or so. This group is investigating layering one polyelectrolyte with strong clay platelets (rather than using two polyelectrolytes). Thus they create a "brick and mortar" assembly, where strong (nano-sized) clay platelets are glued together with flexible polymer layers.

The process is good for creating very thin layers, but as you can imagine it's very slow for making thick materials. Each deposition step only adds on the order of a nanometer of material. Hundreds of steps are needed to create films thick enough to actually pick up, bend, and perform mechanical testing.

However some researchers have already investigated switching from the laborious "sequential dipping" technique to a "roll-to-roll" technique. So, instead of dipping a glass slide (or whatever) into vats of liquid one after the other (each time adding a very thin layer), the idea would be to use roll-to-roll technology (like in printing presses) to dip huge sheets of material through various vats at high speed. It's been shown to work (with some difficulties along the way, of course)... so in principle if these materials become sought, there are ways of making them in greater quantities, and thicker than this lab demonstration suggests.

Another unique thing about this "layer-by-layer" method of creating materials is that you can inherently control the composition of the material across the thickness. So you can actually have, for instance, the material's elastic modulus (or dielectric properties, or whatever), vary though the thickness of the material. Maybe you want a sheet of "plexiglass" that is super-strong at its core, but rather soft and rubberlike in its outer layer (so it doesn't hurt when you bang your head against it? Or maybe you want a liquid-like 'healing layer' on the outside to fill in scratches?). This depth-control of the material properties could be quite interesting for many applications where you want a mix of properties.

(Disclosure: Part of my Ph.D. thesis work involved related layer-by-layer materials.)

Re:Link with pics (3, Interesting)

foniksonik (573572) | about 7 years ago | (#20874957)

How about using an Inkjet method? You could get a good compromise between speed and flexible composition... or even with the roll-to-roll method they could use something like an ink plate to deposit just where they want the liquid to bind.... lots of good engineering research to be done there as well.

You know what else is as strong as steel? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20874189)

My rock hard cock

And my rock hard cock isn't going to blow itself, nancies, so get busy bitches

just curious (5, Funny)

User 956 (568564) | about 7 years ago | (#20874201)

Did they invent it by talking into the mouse?

In Soviet Disney ... (2, Funny)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | about 7 years ago | (#20875535)

Did they invent it by talking into the mouse?

In Soviet Disney, mouse talks into you!

HEFTY Eat Your Heart Out! (1)

Zymergy (803632) | about 7 years ago | (#20874209)

"It took 300 layers of each the glue-like polymer and the clay nanosheets to create a piece of this material as thick as a piece of plastic wrap." Sounds labor inten$ive though..

Re:HEFTY Eat Your Heart Out! (1)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about 7 years ago | (#20874373)

Doesn't sound very labour intensive to me. They made a robot arm that dips a piece of glass into a dispersion of nanosheets, then dips it into the glue, over and over again. That sounds trivially easy, like something you could do in your backyard.

I imagine you could produce some pretty interesting seamless objects with this... just smash it on the ground when you're done and shake the broken glass out.

Nanosheets don't look that terribly hard to grow, and this polymer they're talking about is apparently similar to white glue.

This looks like something fun to try out.

Re:HEFTY Eat Your Heart Out! (5, Informative)

kebes (861706) | about 7 years ago | (#20874555)

The dipping procedure is fairly easy to automate, but the technique only adds a very thin layer (think nanometers) for each dipping cycle. The usage of clay platelets in this present work does make the films thicker, but still their 300 layer film is only ~300 microns thick. So it takes awhile to build up enough layers for it to be macroscopically thick and strong. To speed it up, you can use a roll-to-roll process as long as you're trying to create large 'sheets' of material.

I imagine you could produce some pretty interesting seamless objects with this... just smash it on the ground when you're done and shake the broken glass out.
Indeed! You've hit upon one of the main "selling points" of this technique: unlike other coating techniques, it isn't limited to flat surfaces. In fact, you can even coat the insides of objects. For example you can coat the insides of thin capillaries by alternately flowing the two solutions through the capillary. Some companies were also checking whether you could prevent fouling/rusting of pipes by coating their insides with material: coating even huge lengths of pipes becomes easier when all you have to do is flow some solutions through them. (You can even 'fix' a pipe already installed by taking it offline and performing this operation every so once in awhile...)

The ability to coat strange shapes may indeed allow for some neat tricks. Also note that coating glass is easiest, but actually you can layer onto all kinds of surfaces (all that's needed is a bit of surface charge). So you can imagine a sacrificial mold (something that you can burn away at low temperature or dissolve with some other solvent) that you them multilayer to create, as you say, a seamless object of controllable properties.

This looks like something fun to try out.
It's a remarkly simple technique to use. All you need is some water-soluble polymers, a glass microscope slide, and a few beakers! Of course, unless you're really patient (or have a robot or auto-dipper) it takes awhile to get a really thick film!

(Disclosure: Part of my thesis work was on these layer-by-layer materials.)

Re:HEFTY Eat Your Heart Out! (1)

davidsyes (765062) | about 7 years ago | (#20875497)

I was just thinking about how this might be used to coat the intestines, or trachea or bowels. I wonder what kind of rejection the body might offer.

(How long before government employees spec this for Air Force One-grade toilet paper? Imagine the various ramifications...)

Re:HEFTY Eat Your Heart Out! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20874533)

Not as labor intensive as you might think, if the article's description of the method they used is anywhere near accurate.

Blue sky, but think of something along the lines of a large sheet of base material being pulled over a series of alternating deposition stations, each one building up another layer, until you have the desired number of nanolayers/thickness. Strip the Super Plastic off, or perhaps leave it on as an aid to laminating thin layers of the super plastic together into the desired thickness if that's possible. It might be more expensive and time-consuming than simple metalizing of plastic film, but if the properties described are half as good in reality as they're promised to be, they'll figure some industrial manufacturing process out.

I also assume that some of the research funding being asked for is to see if they might not be able to come up with a cheap, practical method of manufacture if it turns out that the promise is real.

Plasteel (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20874225)

Sweet! Our soldiers can have REAL Storm Trooper armor now! Wait...that's a bad thing, right?

Re:Plasteel (1)

Original Replica (908688) | about 7 years ago | (#20874355)

Our soldiers can have REAL Storm Trooper armor now! Wait...that's a bad thing, right?

No, it's a really good thing. Even for the most libertarian "the revolution is coming" pessimist out there, having the Infantry in top shelf body armor is a good thing. I can only think of two scenarios where this could be viewed as a bad thing.
1. If there ever where a need for the American people to violently turn on the government.
- The Infantry would not be a major target. The political and economic elite would be.
2. American Infantry were invading your homeland.
- You might as well fall quickly to unstoppable ground troops 'cause our leaders are nuts. They will bomb the hell out of you if you don't submit.

Re:Plasteel (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 7 years ago | (#20874383)

I have never seen someone miss a joke so badly.

Re:Plasteel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20874587)

You're new here aren't you?

Re:Plasteel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20875455)

No, why?

Please God, no more Roland posts... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20874233)

... I've quite had enough of his dubious news.

Almost there... (1)

Simply Curious (1002051) | about 7 years ago | (#20874239)

Just a few more steps to a General Products [wikipedia.org] hull...

Superman (3, Funny)

king-manic (409855) | about 7 years ago | (#20874257)

Man of heavily layered plastic?

Re:Superman (2, Funny)

jameskojiro (705701) | about 7 years ago | (#20874325)

I thought "Man of heavily layer plastic" was *DUM DUM DUM* TROJAN MAN!!!!

Re:Superman (1)

Surt (22457) | about 7 years ago | (#20874659)

I'm pretty sure all their commercials emphasize just how un-layered their plastic is. Feels like I'm wearing nothing at all ... nothing at all ... nothing at all. Oh, stupid sexy Flanders.

Re:Superman (1)

Tribbin (565963) | about 7 years ago | (#20875127)

The plastic is easily penetratable with a sharp object of the following material:

'Kryptonite' Discovered in Serbian Mine:
http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/04/24/1215200 [slashdot.org]

Your sig (3, Funny)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | about 7 years ago | (#20875549)

If you mod this up, your slashdot background will turn into a beautiful sunset!

I tried that and it didn't work, so I am posting this comment to take back my mod point. Neener neener neener!

Another common material of similar construction (3, Funny)

erroneus (253617) | about 7 years ago | (#20874283)

Not sure which restaurant makes it, but there's this ultra-cheesy lasagna... it's pretty good but by the time it's "processed" it is not only as strong as steel, but as binding as epoxy.

Ka-Ching (1)

mastershake_phd (1050150) | about 7 years ago | (#20874299)

Sounds expensive, very expensive. I mean its not useful unless its somewhat affordable right? Those stealth aircraft cost billions, and thats only carbon fiber.

Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (5, Insightful)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | about 7 years ago | (#20874301)

I know the science of materials statics and strengths, physical engineering, isn't exactly an exciting field, but might this not have applications in, say, building materials? Home-cladding? Vehicle frames? Computer cases? Ultralightweight spacecraft components? Replacements for easily-broken household items such as cups and plates?

Why do we always have to go to "It's light! It's strong! This will clearly help prevent foreigners from killing our troops!"?

Re:Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20874389)

Because it is probably expensive and the government is the only one who might be willing to pay for it. You could use it in something like computer cases, but are you willing to pay the extra cost to avoid lifting a few extra pounds?

Re:Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (2, Insightful)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | about 7 years ago | (#20874437)

That's what they said about cold-rolled steel two hundred years ago. Everyone had to settle for wood and stone. Now I can buy cold-rolled steel for less than a wooden beam for the exact same application.

Re:Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20875315)

uhm and the low price of that steel is due, in part, to processing improvements from government funded research. The government pays scientists to build bombs and the technology filters out. Private industry is mostly too brain dead to due basic research. Scientists talk about armor if the government gave them money to build armor. Now shut the fuck up.

Re:Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (1)

Skrapion (955066) | about 7 years ago | (#20875449)

To be fair, that statement also supports the GP's point. Just like cold-rolled steel was two hundred years ago, this tech is too expensive to use in common applications, and probably will be for a long time. If they get some government funding, it will take less time.

Re:Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (2, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 7 years ago | (#20874453)

Why do we always have to go to "It's light! It's strong! This will clearly help prevent foreigners from killing our troops!"?
Maybe because the military is always eager to throw piles of cash at promising technology that will improve their ability to project force & protect the forces?

A lot of (basic) research has been done on the Dept of Defense's dime.
Most of it has eventually worked its way into the larger market place...

Otherwise, you have to dig up venture capital and those guys can be real bastards when you can't commercialize the technology according to their 3 or 5 or X year plan.

Re:Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (2)

RegTooLate (1135209) | about 7 years ago | (#20874457)

As much as I hate to admit it, military research and development drives much of what we discover these days. The government pays big $$$ for new toys.

Re:Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 7 years ago | (#20874461)

Why do we always have to go to "It's light! It's strong! This will clearly help prevent foreigners from killing our troops!"?

Sign of the times. As a civie, my first thought about the world beyond my own little life in any given day is of the war. And to the business interests who want to sell this stuff, they want a piece of those sweet, sweet billions the government is spending on this war.

Re:Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (1)

mrbluze (1034940) | about 7 years ago | (#20874569)

Why do we always have to go to "It's light! It's strong! This will clearly help prevent foreigners from killing our troops!"?
Exactly! It's equally important to prevent us from killing our own troops, right? And other people's too, for that matter.

Re:Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 7 years ago | (#20874575)

Of course, when reading about new materials, every self-respecting geek would first think of a space elevator! :-)

Hard truth (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 7 years ago | (#20874605)

Why do we always have to go to "It's light! It's strong! This will clearly help prevent foreigners from killing our troops!"?

Because many of these materials are difficult to make, or extremely expensive, or not suited for all uses, or 'all of the above'. It normally takes many years, if at all, for exotic materials to enter the consumer market. When they do, it is typically on high end/luxury stuff first (where price is less of an object) and only later trickles down to the shelves of your local big box retailer.
 
Look at composites for example - despite having been around since the 1960's, you still won't find much made of it down at your local Wal-mart. There simply aren't that many uses that justify the expense and difficulty of manufacture.

Blame the movies. (4, Insightful)

jd (1658) | about 7 years ago | (#20874611)

How many movies have you seen where the hero rescues household finances by preventing the cups from getting broken? Or builds a 200 mpg car by replacing the iron shell with plastic, preventing the total collapse of the US car industry and Western Civilization?

Let's face it, mundane (but realistic) uses aren't exciting and don't make good stories. The microwave gun that generates pain across nerve endings is discussed in terms of urban combat and riot-suppression, but in the real world, more people are probably going to end up using the device in farmland where electric fences are impractical or impossible, as a replacement for noisy bird scarers, possibly even in a very low-power form in medical diagnostics when you want to generate a very controlled stimulus to determine the location and extent of nerve damage, etc.

An ultra-light plastic would be valuable for so many things, from cutlery to possibly safer alternatives to metal for pins and plates within the human body to a replacement for aluminium in airframes to a replacement for metals (lead especially) in "unbreakable toys". Depending on thermal properties, it may have uses in ducting where you need something strong but light. Depending on exactly what is meant by "strong", it may become a replacement for steel cabling in reinforced concrete - plastics tend to be better at aging. Current plastic drains are notoriously feeble. Now, please consider that Victorian drains are only now starting to reach the end of their lifespan, and Roman-era aqueducts are still perfectly functional, so anything that lasts a mere hundred years is simply living up to what was expected of material science a hundred years ago, and we really should be looking to match or better a bunch of iron Age punks. Could this plastic offer a cost-effective way of matching some of the greatest material science achievements in history?

Re:Blame the movies. (1)

jtroutman (121577) | about 7 years ago | (#20874727)

I'm excited, not by what this can do, but by the concept itself. Imagine if, instead of using montmorillonite clay and polyvinyl acetate, they used bucky tubes and a stronger polymer and instead of just making sheets, twisted those sheets into strands. Might just work for a space elevator.

Re:Blame the movies. (1)

Skrapion (955066) | about 7 years ago | (#20875407)

Hey now, be careful when talking about tubes on Slashdot.

Re:Blame the movies. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20874921)

An ultra-light plastic would be valuable for so many things, from cutlery to...

Assuming the material (or some variation of it) has the necessary properties make good "cutlery", metal detectors installed for safety are suddenly less effective. If the material could be made in thick (or even millable) configurations, the plastic handgun becomes a possibility (no, Glocks don't count - they have plenty of metal parts to set off a metal detector). And Wandering Wombat was concerned that someone's first thought was a purely defensive military application; people like me must scare him shitless.

- T

toss me! (1)

sanman2 (928866) | about 7 years ago | (#20875237)

(in m'best scottish accent)

Miiittthhrrriilllll!!!

Re:Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (2, Insightful)

ampathee (682788) | about 7 years ago | (#20874615)

Because that's where the grant money is?

Re:Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (1)

GroeFaZ (850443) | about 7 years ago | (#20874679)

You should have realized by now that everything with even remote military applications has better chances of receiving research money. In the US at least.

Re:Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (1)

ZombieRoboNinja (905329) | about 7 years ago | (#20874709)

While I'm sure there's a certain subset of people who read this article and immediately turns to a friend and says, "Do you even BEGIN to realize the profound effect this development will have on laptop cases?!?" the idea of super-thin bullet-proof vests are probably a lot more exciting to most people.

Re:Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 7 years ago | (#20874827)

I admit it, I'm a geek. My first thought was to wonder if this would replace aluminium, as aluminium replaced titanium, in Apple's pro laptops. My second thought was to wonder how well it radiate heat.

Re:Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (1)

sholden (12227) | about 7 years ago | (#20874741)

Obviously you seek out the things that have the most money first...

There's also the question of what "strong" means. High tensile strength but low compressive strength does not a good support beam make.

Re:Used in body armor? THATS your first thought? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20875567)

Well, if so many foreigners weren't trying to kill our troops...

FTA... (1)

mustafap (452510) | about 7 years ago | (#20874311)

"Michigan Engineering is seeking to raise $110 million for capital building projects and program support in these areas to further research discovery"

Ah... sounds like there might be some PR hype lurking in here somewhere...

Re:FTA... (1)

Da_Biz (267075) | about 7 years ago | (#20874541)

Ah... sounds like there might be some PR hype lurking in here somewhere...

Well, I think it's safe to assume there's PR hype because this is a press release. The little blurb at the end is nothing terribly shameful or surprising.

Strong as Steel? (5, Insightful)

trout007 (975317) | about 7 years ago | (#20874365)

I hate that comparison. Are they talking Yield Strength or Ultimate Strength? What is the Modulus of elasticity? If you are talking strength there are many different steels with widely different strengths. Also if you are talking body armor there is also it's energy absorption capability.

Re:Strong as Steel? (2, Informative)

SoapDish (971052) | about 7 years ago | (#20874619)

Judging from the description of the "Velcro effect" I'd wager they're talking about ultimate strength. And even then, they may be talking about specific strength, so it could actually require a much larger geometry to achive the same strength as steel.

And yes, yeild strength and ultimate strength are very different quantities when it comes to design (for those that don't know).

The layered construction makes it sound like the material's not isomorphic, and I bet there are different compression and tensile characteristics. Plus, it might not have good high temperature characteristics. Isn't PVA a thermoplastic?

So, of course there will be a lot more research required.

Plus, it's a composite, not a plastic.

Re:Strong as Steel? (1)

Toonol (1057698) | about 7 years ago | (#20875059)

The layered construction makes it sound like the material's not isomorphic, and I bet there are different compression and tensile characteristics.

I know almost nothing about material science. But if a layered material exhibits most of it's strength along one axis, couldn't the same process be adapted to use (for lack of a better term) threads? Multiple fine threads of distinct material bonded together, forming a type of cable. Wouldn't that show structural integrity along two dimensions instead of one?

Re:Strong as Steel? (5, Informative)

kebes (861706) | about 7 years ago | (#20874771)

If you're interested in the details (and have a subscription to Science), here's the actual paper:
Paul Podsiadlo, Amit K. Kaushik, Ellen M. Arruda, Anthony M. Waas, Bong Sup Shim, Jiadi Xu, Himabindu Nandivada, Benjamin G. Pumplin, Joerg Lahann, Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy, and Nicholas A. Kotov "Ultrastrong and Stiff Layered Polymer Nanocomposites [sciencemag.org] " Science 5 October 2007: 80-83. DOI: 10.1126/science.1143176 [doi.org] .
Blurb:

Deposition of alternating nanoscale layers of clay particles and a polymer yields a transparent composite that is as stiff and strong as steel.
The abstract is:

Nanoscale building blocks are individually exceptionally strong because they are close to ideal, defect-free materials. It is, however, difficult to retain the ideal properties in macroscale composites. Bottom-up assembly of a clay/polymer nanocomposite allowed for the preparation of a homogeneous, optically transparent material with planar orientation of the alumosilicate nanosheets. The stiffness and tensile strength of these multilayer composites are one order of magnitude greater than those of analogous nanocomposites at a processing temperature that is much lower than those of ceramic or polymer materials with similar characteristics. A high level of ordering of the nanoscale building blocks, combined with dense covalent and hydrogen bonding and stiffening of the polymer chains, leads to highly effective load transfer between nanosheets and the polymer.
In response to your questions about actual material response, the paper discusses a variety of metrics for a variety of different preparation conditions. They report that the nano-composite material has an ultimate tensile strength 10 times greater than the pure PVA polymer, up to 480 MPa. They also state that the modulus, E, was 100 times greater than the pure polymer, up to 125 GPa, which they compare to Kevlar (E ~ 80 to 220 GPa).

In terms of energy absorption, they compare the uncrosslinked nano-composite to the crosslinked one. As you might imagine, the crosslinked one was more rigid (and gave rise to the modulus previously mentioned), having a low ultimate strain of 0.33 %. The uncrosslinked one deformed somewhat more (ultimate strain 0.7%), with higher energy absorption potential.

As you note, the comparison of "strong as steel" is not very helpful. But looking at the stress-strain curves, these materials look quite strong. Also, since you can adjust the material properties (optimizing for energy storage versus elastic modulus), they might be great for achieving desired performance for certain niche applications.

Air-Craft? (1)

MrShaggy (683273) | about 7 years ago | (#20874379)

So if it is clear, would that meant that Wonder-Woman isn't far behind??

Re:Air-Craft? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about 7 years ago | (#20874627)

Sure, the frame might be transparent. But it will still be quite visible...

Don't forget all the wires, fluid lines (hydraulics, fuel), computer boards, engine components, the pilot, weapons, radar equipment...

It would look more like those human body models that show the internal organs in a transparent person-shaped case.

Oh and it probably wouldn't absorb/deflect radar nearly as well.

I'd been hoping we could get away from plastic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20874385)

Considering it is one of the main uses for petroleum and will keep us mired in the middle east even if we were able to rid ourselves of the need for petroleum-based fuel.

Re:I'd been hoping we could get away from plastic (4, Informative)

jtroutman (121577) | about 7 years ago | (#20874671)

This is not the plastic you're thinking of. It's layers of montmorillonite clay, which is naturally occuring (Hydrated Sodium Calcium Aluminum Magnesium Silicate Hydroxide) and polyvinyl alcohol (the glue). Polyvinyl alcohol is derived from vinyl acetate, which in turn is made with ethylene and acetic acid with oxygen and a palladium catalyst. Petroleum is not necessary in any of these steps.

What's important to consider, though, is not what this is currently made from, but that it is a test bed for other materials. Imagine if, instead of using the montmorillonite clay, they used bucky tubes...what about a stronger polymer? This is a proof of concept, not the be-all and end-all application.

violence (1)

pkbarbiedoll (851110) | about 7 years ago | (#20874407)

Ya know, I'm not opposed to this technology being used to protect police officers and soldiers, but something in me cringes when that is the first suggested use listed in the article. We seem so hell bent on aggression and security that peaceful and scientific uses are at the bottom of the list or altogether neglected. For instance - this stuff might make motorcycle racing even more interesting - both from a rider's safety standpoint and bike technology.

Plasteel (4, Insightful)

Ramble (940291) | about 7 years ago | (#20874409)

Plasteel, anyone?

Re:Plasteel (1)

vought (160908) | about 7 years ago | (#20874899)

I prefer transparasteel. [wikia.com]

Re:Plasteel (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about 7 years ago | (#20874999)

Plasteel, anyone?

Pam Anderson's tits will survive in pristine condition for a thousand years after she's gone.

PVA... (2, Informative)

Alceste (138400) | about 7 years ago | (#20874411)

Dissolves pretty readily in water. I wonder how this is stabilized.

Re:PVA... (1)

the Jim Bloke (1110963) | about 7 years ago | (#20874621)

In the article they mentioned cooperative hydrogen bonds. now, I can barely remember my high school chemistry but that does sound like something that would be vulnerable to water as a solvent. Still, I would guess it would be a slow process, and putting a waterproof coating on something is a technology that has been around longer than metalworking.

Re:PVA... (4, Informative)

kebes (861706) | about 7 years ago | (#20874841)

It turns out that these kind of materials are not water-soluble, even though both components are, and even though you can easily assemble them from water. It's certainly counter-intuitive, but the assemblies involve electrostatic (charge-charge) links and hydrogen-bonding (like in DNA) links. Even though those kinds of links are inherently water soluble, when you are layering "large" molecules (polymers and nano-platelets count as large in chemistry), then there are so many "sticker groups" that the overall binding is very strong. (There are other more subtle effects, like the entropy of assembly, also at play.) As a result, these materials don't readily dissolve in water.

In the actual scientific paper, they further explain how they "cross-link" the material to make it more stable. Cross-linking is basically chemistry that generates strong covalent bonds between the various molecules. (This is what happens when you make a strong rubber...) They do indeed indicate that the cross-linked materials are more stable against changes in humidity (the un-crosslinked materials swell a bit when exposed to a humid atmosphere; which might be bad for some applications).

Wait a minute.... (1)

Hawthorne01 (575586) | about 7 years ago | (#20874445)

I watched the Super Friends growing up, I know how this ends [bcdb.com] ! Marvin and Wendy had to foil a plot from a guy named "King Plasto" who used stuff just like this in his evil attempt to take over the world. Someone call the Great Hall Of The Justice League and get Batman and Aquaman on this, stat!

To think I can remember that bad episode of a bad cartoon from the 70's, yet forgot my Dad's birthday this year. Again.

Sigh.

Re:Wait a minute.... (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 7 years ago | (#20874565)

It's because you didn't sit in front of a box shouting your dads birthday.

The best use of all (2)

pwizard2 (920421) | about 7 years ago | (#20874469)

They should start making condoms out of this!

Light cars = safer and more fuel efficient, right? (3, Insightful)

UnAmericanPunk (310528) | about 7 years ago | (#20874477)

So... why not make cars out of this stuff? Think, if it's as strong as steel, if the car body was made out of this then it would be like having a armored car, or at least a 50's American car. Then with the lighter weight it should improve gas mileage quite a bit. As long as the manufacturing process isn't too costly or cost goes down with more production, this sounds like it would be great.

Re:Light cars = safer and more fuel efficient, rig (1)

Admiral Justin (628358) | about 7 years ago | (#20874597)

Because if less of the force is absorbed by the vehicle *crumpling* more of the force of a collision would be transferred to the occupants.

Also, you'll buy less cars if your car takes less damage. That's bad for the automotive industry.

Re:Light cars = safer and more fuel efficient, rig (1)

mrbluze (1034940) | about 7 years ago | (#20874825)

Because if less of the force is absorbed by the vehicle *crumpling* more of the force of a collision would be transferred to the occupants.
Well nobody was saying you should make a car out of 1 foot thick steel-strength plastic. Even steel crumples if it's thin enough. It's just a matter of appropriate design.

Re:Light cars = safer and more fuel efficient, rig (1)

vbraga (228124) | about 7 years ago | (#20874759)

Well, actually, you don't want the whole car to be that strong. It would transfer more energy to passengers in a crash. So, it's not all that simple.

PS: English is not my first (or my second ;-)) language, so, I'm deeply sorry for errors.

Light cars = Look out, some wind! (1)

Spy der Mann (805235) | about 7 years ago | (#20874925)

So... why not make cars out of this stuff?

I agree, to a certain point. Cars need a minimum weight as to not be pushed by lateral winds, so I don't think making the WHOLE body of this stuff would be a good idea. Having said that, this plastic could be a wonderful extra layer of protection for your car.

Re:Light cars = safer and more fuel efficient, rig (1)

triffid_98 (899609) | about 7 years ago | (#20874991)

As some people have pointed out, 'strong as steel' is really not much of a definition. Since it's a layered clay composite, it's probably fairly brittle. This means in applications where it needs to bend it will shatter. This is probably not what you want your car to do. OTOH, as ablative armor or in your car's structural members this stuff might work really well.

So... why not make cars out of this stuff? Think, if it's as strong as steel, if the car body was made out of this then it would be like having a armored car, or at least a 50's American car.

i understand the 'strong as steel part' (1)

siddesu (698447) | about 7 years ago | (#20874479)

i just want to know steel at what temperature.

Think of the children... (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about 7 years ago | (#20874559)

Or the cops... or soldiers.. or anything but the 'common citizen'.

Forget humanitarian uses (1)

BlueF (550601) | about 7 years ago | (#20874589)

Body armor, biomedical, and unmanned aircraft are nice and all... but what I really want to know is when will this super-plastic will be used in new cars?!

For years cars have been getting heavier and heavier in the name of safety. It's about time someone comes up with something to make cars LIGHTER! While my motivation is purely motivated for better performance, there's got to be some practical benefits such as fuel economy for lighter (faster) cars!!

Re:Forget humanitarian uses (1)

compro01 (777531) | about 7 years ago | (#20875537)

you can only make a car so light before that lightness becomes a problem. try driving a modern smallish car on a highway in a good crosswind. you're gonna be fighting to keep going straight. now imagine trying to do that in a car the same size that weighs half as much.

I'm all for fuel efficient, but "make it lighter" has pretty close limits.

Loose Plastic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20874609)

Can jet fuel melt super light plastic? :-)

military purposes (1)

40ozFreak (823002) | about 7 years ago | (#20874663)

Why do new materials and technologies immediately become used for military and automotive purposes? Any time a new plastic, metal, fiber, or other new fangled material is developed by some University of Whatever, it is quickly stated that it will be used for armor and aircraft. Doesn't anyone want to build a house out of this stuff? Maybe...reinforce consumer vehicles to give them better crash test ratings? Everything gets a military use now. Fuck the military for assuming everything has a purpose for them. I'm tired of advancing military technology while neglecting schools and hospitals.

Rust-proff objects (1)

SilverBlade2k (1005695) | about 7 years ago | (#20874665)

Now we'll be able to create objects and items that can replace metal and has no chance of rusting...like exterior of cars...

blue planet rpg? (1)

hitmark (640295) | about 7 years ago | (#20874715)

there they had a bioplastic that was used as building material, in various strengths.

as the name suggests, it was grown using bacteria.

hell, one book even had a "inflatable" structure. just pump in nutrient and it would erect itself, complete with windows and pre-fitted wiring.

Interesting Roland. I posted this 2 days ago here (1, Interesting)

CFD339 (795926) | about 7 years ago | (#20874731)

Here's my official WTF? I posted this exact story w/ a link to Science Daily's article two days ago -- before it was on Extreme Tech and half the other interwebs out there. I've never whined about having a story declined, but seeing the exact same story in here two days later isn't leaving me with that happy, warm, well fed feeling.

Re: whining baby (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | about 7 years ago | (#20874881)

quit your whining. no one wants to hear it.

I wonder if y'all'll get this: (1)

Kamineko (851857) | about 7 years ago | (#20874889)

Your bullets cannot harm me!

My wings are like a shield of steel!

Re:I wonder if y'all'll get this: (1)

mark-t (151149) | about 7 years ago | (#20875303)

I loved that show [wikipedia.org] when I was a kid! By the way, it just came out on DVD this summer... so us nostalgia buffs can watch all 100 episodes anytime!

no one has asked this question yet? (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | about 7 years ago | (#20874901)

at what temperature does it melt?

it's plastic. not steel.

If they want adoption in the marketplace (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20875051)

Start making condoms of it asap. Just think of the marketing opportunities... "When your boner's too much for a trojan..."

Biotech? (4, Insightful)

Biff Stu (654099) | about 7 years ago | (#20875093)

Does anybody who creates the tags RTFA? (OK, I'm not new here. That's meant to be a rhetorical question.) I don't see how this is biotech. The stuff is made out of sequential layers of clay and PVA. These layers are deposited mechanically from solution. It's not like they have genetically engineered critters secreting some new cool substance. Yes, the researchers do compare the structure to mother of pearl, but other than a structural simularity, that's all there is.

So, they finally figured out... (1)

falken0905 (624713) | about 7 years ago | (#20875465)

So, they finally figured out how to manufacture that light weight material found at the Roswell crash site eh? Took them long enough. Just one more product resulting from 'Alien Technology'. Ha!
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