polymer smart plastic material

Smart plastic material for the next generation of soft robots and electronics

Researchers are inspired by living things like trees and oysters Making a new plastic material It is characterized by flexibility and strength, showing ten times greater durability than hardness natural rubberThey said.

A team from the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) used a unique process that involved applying light and a catalyst to change the properties of the material. Their goal, they said, was to mimic natural materials that can be hard and hard in some places and soft and flexible in others. In fact, while naturally occurring materials such as skin and muscle readily combine properties such as strength and flexibility, it has historically been difficult for scientists to recreate this in synthetic materials, said Zacharias Page, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Austin in Austin, who led search.

In the past, when a mixture of different synthetic materials was used to imitate these qualities, the materials would disintegrate or rupture in the places where the different materials met, he said. In this case, Page and his team can control and alter the structure of a plastic-like material, using light to change how stiff or tensile the material is. “This is the first material of its kind,” he said at Mail on me Utah news.

Where these researchers have had success while others have failed is their ability to control crystallization, and thus the physical properties of the material, particularly by using the application of light, which is “potentially transformative for wearable electronics or motors in soft robots,” He said.

Achieving the correct balance of the polymer

To find the right formula to create a unique material, the researchers started with a monomer, a polymer building block — or chains of monomers — similar to those in plastics that most people are familiar with. The researchers said they then tested dozens of catalysts that, when added to the monomer and showed visible light, resulted in a semi-crystalline polymer similar to what is found in existing elastomers. Where the light touched the material, it became stiffer and more solid, while the unlit areas remained soft and stretched.

The reaction of the material occurs at room temperature, they said, and the monomer and catalyst used by the researchers are commercially available. They also used inexpensive blue LEDs as a light source in their process, which took less than an hour and reduced the use of hazardous waste. All of these aspects mean that the smart-materials manufacturing process is fast, inexpensive, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly, the researchers said. Moreover, the resulting material, due to its different properties, was stronger and could stretch more than most of the previously created mixed materials, they said.

Polymer applications in robotics and electronics

Researchers published a paper for their work in Science. The team plans to continue its work to develop more objects with the materials to continue testing their properties and finding out what kinds of applications would work well for them.

One such thing is developing 3D objects that include both hard and soft components, said Adrian Rilsky, a doctoral student at the University of Austin who was involved in the research.

The researchers said the team is also envisioning materials used as a flexible foundation on which to install electronic components in medical devices or wearable technology, or to improve mobility or durability in robots.

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