Oct
07
2007

Scientists finally create indestructible sandwich wrap. Sandwiches now safe, completely inaccessible.

Ultra plastic: Just think - a Lunchable that you could see, but never get to.  (Image courtesy of the University of Michigan)
Ultra plastic: Just think - a Lunchable that you could see, but never get to. (Image courtesy of the University of Michigan)
Using a technique similar to the natural processes involved in the formation of seashells, scientists at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor have created a plastic based material as thin as a sheet of paper, but as strong as steel.

What’s the secret? It has to do with that magic word that we love so much around the science museum: nano.

Nano-sized sheets of plastic are stacked by a robotic arm, and stuck together with a mortar made of “clay and a non-toxic glue similar to that used in school classrooms.” The plastic layers are so thin that even after 300 of them are stacked, the resulting sheet is still paper-thin and transparent. The reason why the material is so strong is because the layers are stacked in alternating patterns, and because the glue/mortar immediately creates new bonds as soon as others are broken. Again, this is all very similar to the way that abalone shells (known for their strength) form – in the case of the shells, crystals are stacked in alternating patterns, and cemented together with an organic mortar.

Currently the material is only being produced in pieces a few centimeters large, but the Ann Arbor researchers are already building a machine in their lab that could make pieces as large as one meter by one meter.

Although it’s still several years away from commercial applications, the material has potential uses ranging from microtechnology to creating stronger, lighter body armor.

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