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A picture of the new super strong paper. Its strength owes to its small fiber size.  (Source: American Chemical Society)
Up in the sky -- is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's super paper!

Some people can get a little sick of hearing about carbon nanotubes.  Sure, the little structures are strong, and bear a plethora of uses, but they're still expensive, so unfortunately their uses remain in the future.  However, a new, more affordable technology has been developed which revolutionizes an everyday material and will increase its strength to surprising levels.

The new technology, developed by researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, takes ordinary cellulose and puts it through special processing.  The end result is a paper, made out of normal wood pulp that has an incredible tensile strength of 1.6 times that of iron.  The paper sports 214 MPa of tensile strength, easily trumping iron (130 MPa) and heavy duty paper (103 MPa).  Tensile strength helps to measure how resistant a material is to ripping, and how much weight it can support.

The new paper is composed of nano-sized whiskers of cellulose.  Cellulose, the crystalline polymer of glucose, is what makes up cell walls and makes plants so rigid.  On a nanoscale, cellulose fibers beat steel and glass in strength, but paper is composed of larger cellulose strands that are prone to breakage under stress.  Typical commercial paper has a tensile strength of a mere 30 MPa, indicating its weakness.

To make super paper, researchers first had to make the cellulose fibers super small.  Head researcher Lars Berglund used enzymes and mechanical beating to tear the cellulose fibers to a mere 1,000 of their original size.  Then the researchers added carboxymethanol, which coated the fibers in carbonyl groups.  These groups produced hydrogen bonds, further strengthening the material.

The research was published in the current issue of Biomacromolecules.

Mike Wolcott, a materials scientist and cellulose fiber expert at Washington State University in Pullman, labels the paper as "quite interesting".  He notes that the paper has large pores between fibers.  These pores make it dry quicker, saving in production costs and making manufacturing easier.  John Simonsen, a physical chemist and nanocrystalline cellulose expert at Oregon State University in Corvallis, adds that the new material is formed from the most abundant organic material on the planet, so even with the extra treatment it should be cost competitive against more exotic materials like carbon nanotubes.

The new paper may be even used in medical uses such as providing scaffolds for growing replacement tissues or organs.  However its most practical application may be as simple as the shopping bag.

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RE: you know
By FITCamaro on 6/11/2008 3:47:00 PM , Rating: 5
In other news today, a local man was beaten to death with a sheet of paper.

RE: you know
By cherrycoke on 6/11/2008 4:12:57 PM , Rating: 2
Might be pretty easy to make some body armor out of this stuff. kind of like wearing an old cast iron stove door on your chest, just lighter.

RE: you know
By daInvincibleGama on 6/11/2008 4:22:47 PM , Rating: 2
Tensile Strength is not what you want in body armor. Heavy Duty paper has a strength of 103 MPa and iron has 130 MPa,so these should be roughly the same. I know I would rather be shot in body armor made of iron than paper.

Tensile strengh is what you would measure if u gripped both ends of a sheet of paper and pulled the ends apart. It's pretty hard to break even regular paper this way with your hands.

RE: you know
By ineedaname on 6/11/2008 8:34:45 PM , Rating: 5
Tensile Strength is not what you want in body armor.

Actually tensile strength is what makes Kevlar great for body armor. Kevlar has a tensile strength of about 3000mpa but most of this strength comes from how it is woven. Its actually the ability for the material to not rip which prevents the bullet from piercing and moves the force sideways.

RE: you know
By shockf1 on 6/12/2008 5:51:08 AM , Rating: 2
Actually tensile strength is what makes Kevlar great for body armor. Kevlar has a tensile strength of about 3000mpa

Just what i was about to say ;)

body armor of 200 - 300mpa is next to useless.

RE: you know
By Samus on 6/13/2008 3:25:19 AM , Rating: 2
i've never seen any product advertised as 'armor' rated less than 1000mpa, and those were just crappy house windows that claims to take the impact of a baseball or a foot trying to kick them in. i doubt they'd stop a bullet like they claim to though.

RE: you know
By feraltoad on 6/16/2008 5:25:51 AM , Rating: 2
Sh*t. So that suit I made out of old telephone books is worthless? Oh well, at least the colander helmet is still OK.

RE: you know
By UppityMatt on 6/12/2008 7:40:19 AM , Rating: 4
So what your trying to tell me is that last 4 hours of my life creating a paper mache cast of my chest was for nothing? ahh Man!

RE: you know
By willssi on 6/11/2008 5:21:15 PM , Rating: 4
You would want to know the impact (maybe shear) strength of the paper. Tensile strength for armor isn't very meaningful unless you find yourself on the receiving end of the rack.

RE: you know
By Clauzii on 6/11/2008 9:13:46 PM , Rating: 2
Unless Youre standing with the NYT in the hands ;)

Man, I'd always wanted double armor to be lightweight :)

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