U-M research: New plastic is strong as steel, transparent. ‘By mimicking a brick-and-mortar molecular structure found in seashells, University of Michigan researchers created a composite plastic that’s as strong as steel but lighter and transparent. It’s made of layers of clay nanosheets and a water-soluble polymer that shares chemistry with white glue.
Engineering professor Nicholas Kotov almost dubbed it “plastic steel,” but the new material isn’t quite stretchy enough to earn that name. Nevertheless, he says its further development could lead to lighter, stronger armor for soldiers or police and their vehicles. It could also be used in microelectromechanical devices, microfluidics, biomedical sensors and valves and unmanned aircraft.
Kotov and other U-M faculty members are authors of a paper on this composite material, “Ultrastrong and Stiff Layered Polymer Nanocomposites”, published in the Oct. 5 edition of Science.
The scientists solved a problem that has confounded engineers and scientists for decades: Individual nano-size building blocks such as nanotubes, nanosheets and nanorods are ultrastrong. But larger materials made out of bonded nano-size building blocks were comparatively weak. Until now.’