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Biotech Technology

Super-Light Plastic As Strong as Steel 226

Roland Piquepaille writes "A new composite plastic built layer by layer has been created by engineers at the University of Michigan. This plastic is as strong as steel. It has been built the same way as mother-of-pearl, and shows similar strength. Interestingly, this 300-layer plastic has been built with 'strong' nanosheets of clay and a 'fragile' polymer called polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), commonly used in paints and glue, which acts as 'Velcro' to envelop the nanoparticles. This new plastic could soon be used to design light but strong armors for soldiers or police officers. The researchers also think this material could be used in biomedical sensors and unmanned aircraft."
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Super-Light Plastic As Strong as Steel

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  • I know the science of materials statics and strengths, physical engineering, isn't exactly an exciting field, but might this not have applications in, say, building materials? Home-cladding? Vehicle frames? Computer cases? Ultralightweight spacecraft components? Replacements for easily-broken household items such as cups and plates?

    Why do we always have to go to "It's light! It's strong! This will clearly help prevent foreigners from killing our troops!"?

  • Strong as Steel? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Friday October 05, 2007 @06:29PM (#20874365)
    I hate that comparison. Are they talking Yield Strength or Ultimate Strength? What is the Modulus of elasticity? If you are talking strength there are many different steels with widely different strengths. Also if you are talking body armor there is also it's energy absorption capability.
  • Plasteel (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ramble ( 940291 ) on Friday October 05, 2007 @06:35PM (#20874409) Homepage
    Plasteel, anyone?
  • That's what they said about cold-rolled steel two hundred years ago. Everyone had to settle for wood and stone. Now I can buy cold-rolled steel for less than a wooden beam for the exact same application.
  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Friday October 05, 2007 @06:39PM (#20874453) Journal

    Why do we always have to go to "It's light! It's strong! This will clearly help prevent foreigners from killing our troops!"?
    Maybe because the military is always eager to throw piles of cash at promising technology that will improve their ability to project force & protect the forces?

    A lot of (basic) research has been done on the Dept of Defense's dime.
    Most of it has eventually worked its way into the larger market place...

    Otherwise, you have to dig up venture capital and those guys can be real bastards when you can't commercialize the technology according to their 3 or 5 or X year plan.
  • by UnAmericanPunk ( 310528 ) on Friday October 05, 2007 @06:44PM (#20874477) Homepage
    So... why not make cars out of this stuff? Think, if it's as strong as steel, if the car body was made out of this then it would be like having a armored car, or at least a 50's American car. Then with the lighter weight it should improve gas mileage quite a bit. As long as the manufacturing process isn't too costly or cost goes down with more production, this sounds like it would be great.
  • Blame the movies. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:00PM (#20874611) Homepage Journal
    How many movies have you seen where the hero rescues household finances by preventing the cups from getting broken? Or builds a 200 mpg car by replacing the iron shell with plastic, preventing the total collapse of the US car industry and Western Civilization?

    Let's face it, mundane (but realistic) uses aren't exciting and don't make good stories. The microwave gun that generates pain across nerve endings is discussed in terms of urban combat and riot-suppression, but in the real world, more people are probably going to end up using the device in farmland where electric fences are impractical or impossible, as a replacement for noisy bird scarers, possibly even in a very low-power form in medical diagnostics when you want to generate a very controlled stimulus to determine the location and extent of nerve damage, etc.

    An ultra-light plastic would be valuable for so many things, from cutlery to possibly safer alternatives to metal for pins and plates within the human body to a replacement for aluminium in airframes to a replacement for metals (lead especially) in "unbreakable toys". Depending on thermal properties, it may have uses in ducting where you need something strong but light. Depending on exactly what is meant by "strong", it may become a replacement for steel cabling in reinforced concrete - plastics tend to be better at aging. Current plastic drains are notoriously feeble. Now, please consider that Victorian drains are only now starting to reach the end of their lifespan, and Roman-era aqueducts are still perfectly functional, so anything that lasts a mere hundred years is simply living up to what was expected of material science a hundred years ago, and we really should be looking to match or better a bunch of iron Age punks. Could this plastic offer a cost-effective way of matching some of the greatest material science achievements in history?

  • by ampathee ( 682788 ) on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:01PM (#20874615)
    Because that's where the grant money is?
  • Re:How quaint! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by McFadden ( 809368 ) on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:29PM (#20874913)

    Yea yea, you read the fark headline.
    Given that it was the first thought that entered my head when I read the headline (and probably that of every true geek) I wouldn't be so quick to judge.
  • Biotech? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Biff Stu ( 654099 ) on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:47PM (#20875093)
    Does anybody who creates the tags RTFA? (OK, I'm not new here. That's meant to be a rhetorical question.) I don't see how this is biotech. The stuff is made out of sequential layers of clay and PVA. These layers are deposited mechanically from solution. It's not like they have genetically engineered critters secreting some new cool substance. Yes, the researchers do compare the structure to mother of pearl, but other than a structural simularity, that's all there is.
  • Re:Ka-Ching (Score:2, Insightful)

    by RachelWard2005 ( 1168349 ) on Friday October 05, 2007 @10:09PM (#20875983)
    Actually the F1-17, Stealth, only costs a few million and those costs are not because of the airframe it is because of the computer technologies used therein. The stealth flies because of the computers in it and on the ground. Those instruments are the most expensive parts on just about any aircraft. While that did not used to be the case, it is the case, now, because of the "Glass Cockpit" make up of the commercial and military aircraft.

    This product may take a while to get into the aviation industry for mere regulations from the FAA; however, if this material is still lighter than metals with the same strength and is either easy to maintain or just takes less maintenance, it may very well become the skin of the newer aircrafts being made. The drawbacks that I see to this material are not really cost or time to create (in relation to aircraft manufacturing), but are instead to do with strength against vibration, how much it expands or contracts do to heat or cold, and the strength of the material once it has been drilled into and has extensive amounts of weight baring against it.

    So basically if it can be lighter than Carbon Fiber or Fiberglass and can hold up to the same standards as steel and aluminum in flight conditions, it will have plenty of funding, time, and man/robot-power to create as much as needed by the manufacturers of heavy, light, and very light aircraft.

    Student of Aviation for Avionics Technician and Airframe & Powerplant Mechanic
    Redstone College of Aviation
  • Wouldnt work (Score:3, Insightful)

    by imsabbel ( 611519 ) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @05:02AM (#20877671)
    Think about it: The weight of the steel is an essential part of the design of a sword. The whole reason your _swing_ it instead of "just press it against somebody" is to give it impulse that will keep it going when meeting resistance.

    Your plasteel swords would just bounce of any kind of armour.

    (lightsabers dont count)
  • Re:Wouldnt work (Score:2, Insightful)

    by adinb ( 897001 ) * on Sunday October 07, 2007 @07:24PM (#20891767) Homepage
    Another SCA rapier fighter? ::grin::

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly