If Star Trek and Wonder Woman were any indicators, high-strength transparent materials have been the stuff of science fiction for decades. If researchers at the University of Michigan have anything to say about it, new transparent materials will become a reality very soon.
Researcher Nicolas Kotov considered dubbing the material “Plastic Steel” but decided the material was not pliable enough for the moniker.
The new material is constructed from layers of clay nano-sheets and a water-soluble polymer that shares similar chemistry with ordinary white glue. A paper on the new composite material was authored by Kotov and other University of Michigan faculty members for the October 5 edition of Science.
The material was created using a machine developed to build materials one nano-layer after another. A robotic arm hovers over a wheel of vials of different liquids. The arm takes a piece of glass the size of a stick of gum and dips it into the polymer glue material and then into a liquid containing a dispersion of clay nanosheets. After the layers dry, the process is repeated until 300 layers of the polymer glue and clay nono-sheets form a super-strong transparent substrate.
That process created a piece of the material about as thick as a piece of plastic wrap. Researchers say that one of the reasons the material is so strong is that it uses a Velcro Effect. The Velcro Effect allows bonds within the sheet that are broken to be reformed easily in a new place.
Researchers also claim to have increased the strength of the material by offsetting the seams of the layers -- similar to the way a bricklayer offsets bricks in a wall.
The material is currently being investigated for possible applications in aviation. Cosmos Magazine quotes Kotov as saying, "We're still at the exploratory stage but the machine is now being built in our lab to build piece as big as one meter by one meter."