When people think about a flexible brand new material that’s light and strong, the first thing that pops into mind is a better cell phone screen. Polyaramide film 2DPA-1 is as light as plastic, “yet stronger than steel and 4–6 times harder to damage than bulletproof glass.” It can even survive being sat on.
MIT’s new material
Another major breakthrough material just escaped from the labs at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It’s super-plastic! Lighter and stronger than steel while also at least four times harder to shatter than bulletproof glass.
MIT has a reputation for doing the impossible and they did it again by achieving “polymerization in two dimensions.” Another added benefit, “unlike other polymers, whose coiled chains of monomers leave gaps between them that allow gases to seep through, 2DPA-1’s monomers lock tightly together like LEGO bricks, making them quite impermeable.”
DNA like strings of “polymers” are spun from “small atoms called monomers” which link up “to form long, spaghetti-like chains.” We use it for everything that can be shaped into three-dimensional objects with injection molding, like water bottles.
This new material does something really amazing. It self-assembles into “two-dimensional sheets that are more like lasagna than spaghetti.” Wait until the genetic engineers learn that trick.
The scientists call their new wonder plastic “polyaramides” and explain that they “stack on top of each and are held together by robust hydrogen bonds.”
That makes them interesting for use in a wide range of applications, other than cell phone screens. It will make a great undercoat for cars, as well as to protect the paint. It can even be used as a “large-scale construction material.”
It can support a building
Polymer chains are part of life, literally. Proteins like DNA and RNA are polymers. So are cellulose, plastics and Teflon. Until Professor Michael Strano and his team came along, everybody thought that one dimensional chains were the only option.
The breakthrough came when they figured out how to coax a few special varieties of monomers to “create 2D, sheet-like monomers that form layered materials that are both lightweight and extremely strong.” Professor Strano points out that “we don’t usually think of plastics as being something that you could use to support a building, but with this material, you can enable new things.” It has some really unusual properties “and we’re very excited about that.”
For decades, researchers have been banging their head against the wall and came to the conclusion that “this was impossible, in part because of how it only takes one monomer to twist out of the sheet’s growing plane for the whole thing to lose its desired form.”
The answer to the revolutionary material is in your utensil drawer. One of those ubiquitous melamine spoons, spatulas or other pieces of common plastic tableware.
Melamine is “composed of rings of carbon and nitrogen.” When you feed some of it into a tank, along with the right monomer soup, the stuff spontaneously self assembles with the melamine forming “tiny two-dimensional disks which stack on top of each other.”
For added stability, each layer is “held together by hydrogen bonds, making it extremely strong and stable.” Because “the material self-assembles, it can be easily produced in larger quantities just by increasing the amounts of the starting ingredients.“