(ORDO NEWS) — The unique material is 10 times stronger than natural rubber.
For the first time, researchers are using only light and a catalyst to change the hardness and elasticity in the same type of molecules. The results of this study are published in Science.
Inspired by living things like trees and shellfish, the team has created a unique material that is ten times stronger than natural rubber and could lead to more flexible electronics and robots.
“This is the first material of this type,” said study co-author Prof Zachariah Page.
“The ability to control crystallization and therefore the physical properties of a material with the application of light has the potential to transform wearable electronics or actuators in soft robotics.”
For a long time, scientists have been working on the creation of synthetic materials that mimic the characteristics of living structures, such as skin and muscles.
The structures of living beings easily combine qualities such as strength and flexibility.
However, when using a combination of different synthetic materials to mimic these properties in the laboratory, the materials often fail, that is, fall apart where different materials meet.
“Often when joining materials, especially if they have very different mechanical properties, they want to fall apart,” Page said.
However, by using light to change the stiffness or elasticity of a material, Page and his colleagues were able to adjust and change the texture of the plastic-like material.
The chemists started with the monomer, which forms larger structures (polymers) by combining with other molecules that are identical to it, much like the polymer in the most widely used plastic.
After testing a dozen catalysts, they found one that produces a “semi-crystalline” polymer similar to synthetic rubber polymer when combined with their monomer and exposed to visible light.
It is noteworthy that where the light “touched” it, a harder material was formed, and the unlit areas retained soft characteristics.
The substance was stronger and could stretch further than other mixed materials because it was formed from the same material with different properties.
The monomer and catalyst are readily available commercially and the reaction proceeds at ambient temperature. In addition, the light source in the experiment was an inexpensive blue LED.
The researchers say the reaction uses minimal hazardous waste, taking less than an hour to complete. This makes the procedure fast, affordable, energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
The material could be used as a flexible base to protect electronic components in medical devices or wearables, according to the research team.
In robotics, both strong and elastic materials are preferred for improved motion and durability, so there is potential for the new material to be used in this industry as well.
To further confirm the usefulness of the material, the researchers will try to create more objects using this substance.
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