Chemical engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new material that is stronger than steel and as light as plastic, something which was thought previously impossible.
The new material is a two-dimensional polymer that self-assembles into sheets, which was developed by Strano, the senior author of the study, and his colleagues. The material is unlike all other polymers, that form one dimensional, spaghetti like chains. The hydrogen bonds formed between the layers of the new material, help to make the structure extremely stable and strong.
“Instead of making a spaghetti-like molecule, we can make a sheet-like molecular plane, where we get molecules to hook themselves together in two dimensions,” Strano says, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and the senior author of the new study. “This mechanism happens spontaneously in solution, and after we synthesize the material, we can easily spin-coat thin films that are extraordinarily strong.”
During their study the researchers made several surprising discoveries about the material. They found the amount of force needed to deform their new material was a staggering four to six times larger than the force needed to deform bulletproof glass. Their second discovery unveiled that the new materials yield strength (the amount of force it takes to break the material) was twice that of steel, despite only having one-sixth the density of steel.
Thanks to the new materials properties, researchers have theorised it could be used as a lightweight and durable coating for car parts or cell phones. It could also be used as a building material for bridges and other structures.