Science rarely fails to impress. So many new and interesting things are being invented or discovered every day that it sometimes comes as a surprise to remember how little progress we’ve made in some fields. Other fields, however, are brimming with new technology, bringing us stuff we can use in other domains of application. For example, a team of researchers from New York invented a shape shifting polymer that lifts 1000 times its own weight.
Inspired by the 1940s superhero Plastic Man (seen next to Edward Scissorhands in the photo), the polymer has a duo of abilities that allows it to be used in multiple ways, depending on need. These potential uses range from the field of medicine, to fashion, and pretty much anything that involves the material pushing or pulling on its surroundings.
Since the polymer is very strong, it changes shapes when in contact with heat (including body heat) and can be crafted into objects smaller than a paper clip, the researchers behind it are excited to see what applications people will use it for.
The polymer was engineered to store large amounts of elastic energy, allowing them a wide variety of uses while they are reacquiring their initial shape. Very important was also the development process behind the trigger temperature, which had to be close enough to that of human skin.
Generally, a process called crystallization occurs when shape shifting materials are stretched or cooled, causing atomic sized strands of polymer molecules to realign, forcing the object into the “temporary’ position. The challenge stood in making the object go back to its “relaxed”, original shape.
For this, the team used individual linkers to connect the polymer’s molecules, thus reducing the crystallization’s effects. In order to very precisely control the polymer’s turning point, the team very carefully controlled the linking chains’ placement.
As the material is taken away from the heat source, it will immediately revert back to its original shape.
Of course, the other big selling point of the new polymer is its ability to lift objects 1000 times its own weight. This was achieved by controlling the polymer’s compound materials very, very precisely. The team hasn’t yet released any information on the precise composition of their new invention other than that detailed in the Polymer Science Part B: Polymer Physics journal.
The only other thing the team stated outside of the article was that the idea came, as I said before, from 1940s superhero Plastic Man.
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