MIT Reports New Polymer: ‘Light as Plastic, but Stronger than Steel’

A news release from MIT reports on an interesting development in materials science. Researchers at the institute have developed a polymer that they say is as light as plastic, but stronger than steel, and which is said to be easy to manufacture in large quantities.

From the news release:

The new material is a two-dimensional polymer that self-assembles into sheets, unlike all other polymers, which form one-dimensional, spaghetti-like chains. Until now, scientists had believed it was impossible to induce polymers to form 2D sheets.

Such a material could be used as a lightweight, durable coating for car parts or cell phones, or as a building material for bridges or other structures, says Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and the senior author of the new study.

[ . . .]

The researchers found that the new material’s elastic modulus — a measure of how much force it takes to deform a material — is between four and six times greater than that of bulletproof glass. They also found that its yield strength, or how much force it takes to break the material, is twice that of steel, even though the material has only about one-sixth the density of steel.

One would think that such a material, if it was relatively inexpensive, would have an enormous appeal for lots of applications. The benefits would seem to be universal. In transportation, for example, engineers are always trying to find ways to reduce weight in order to improve fuel efficiency, but without compromising strength.

The research was published yesterday in the journal Nature:

“Irreversible synthesis of an ultrastrong two-dimensional polymeric material”