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University of Michigan "Plastic Steel"  (Source: Science Magazine, University of Michigan)
Researchers invent nanosheet polymer that is transparent and as strong as steel

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."

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By Captain Orgazmo on 10/5/2007 6:35:51 PM , Rating: 5
If this material is as strong as is claimed, can be manufactured in sufficient amounts, and can be molded like plastics or welded like a metal, this will be the biggest revolution in construction material since... well, since steel.

Imagine: skyscrapers with transparent sides, and no need for structural lattice or inner skeleton; cars with completely transparent roofs (like a jet fighter canopy, except roll-over resistant); submarines with big viewing windows (or cruise ships with big below-waterline windows); passenger airplanes with windows like a coach bus has; bullet-resistant face shields for military or industry; innumerable uses in military aircraft/helicopters/vehicles; space stations with a heck of a view...

If this could be patented, the inventor would make Bill Gates look like a hobo :D

RE: Revolutionary...
By timmiser on 10/5/2007 7:10:48 PM , Rating: 3
You left out one important element required to complete the dream you describe:


For it to be truly revolutionary like you describe, the cost of producing this would be the most important of all.

RE: Revolutionary...
By The0ne on 10/5/2007 7:30:29 PM , Rating: 2
Cost is always a factor for technology and specifically for NEW technologies. It's a matter of time really (and maybe bad marketing that could kill it)

RE: Revolutionary...
By scrapsma54 on 10/6/2007 12:50:41 AM , Rating: 2
So now we have the maximum armor for the nanosuit, The Chameleon fabric (I am not allowed to release in depth information on this stealth material other than the fact it exists and has the actual camo effect like you see in movies, Clemson rule), Now all thats left is super strength and super speed. Thats Not that hard now.

RE: Revolutionary...
By jkostans on 10/6/2007 1:24:24 PM , Rating: 2
You've been reading too many Crysis previews

RE: Revolutionary...
By scrapsma54 on 10/6/2007 6:07:08 PM , Rating: 1
asides the fact I was humorous, There is a fair share of fabric materials I have witnessed from the Polymer and fiber science majors that have been recently been declassified and It is amazing what I have seen. I have seen glass sheet with spirals of nano tubes on one side that when a electronic signal is sent, the particles will arrange and bend light. camouflage. The next generation of high definition will be made of a quartz powder mixed with another liquid to produce accurate color that rivals DLP, minus projection. It also uses Nano particles.
It seems Nano Particle technology is the future, therefore that is what I should have said.
This High strength polymer is just the tip of the iceberg with the advent of nano particles. Can you guess what is classified? You are probably right, but nobody will believe you.
(not aliens)

RE: Revolutionary...
By Mitch101 on 10/8/2007 8:39:25 AM , Rating: 2
Seriously would this being transparent have any effect on radar waves making the jets more stealthy?

RE: Revolutionary...
By timmiser on 10/8/2007 6:13:13 PM , Rating: 2
Well, glass is transparent but it reflects radar until the cows come home.

RE: Revolutionary...
By Ryanman on 10/6/2007 8:22:51 PM , Rating: 2
If this material is as strong as is claimed, can be manufactured in sufficient amounts, and can be molded like plastics or welded like a metal

Yeah, and therin lies the problem I doubt any of that is going to happen any time soon. People always overestimate these scientific advancements. Like the vast majority of them, I'm sure this will be discovered to have little to no practical application. Kinda like bluetooth : D

RE: Revolutionary...
By BoyBawang on 10/5/2007 7:15:26 PM , Rating: 5
that would be perfect Screen Protector for my Pocket and Tablet PCs. Even if I use knife as stylus :)

RE: Revolutionary...
By cheetah2k on 10/5/2007 11:07:15 PM , Rating: 5
When they refer to "As strong as steel" I would consider that mode of strength is refering to the "Tension" properties of the material.

It is obvious from the photos, the material is highly flexible, thus bearing no bending strength (unless coupled with other substrates), and I would suggest that a knife or guillotine would slice thru the material quite easily.

Thinking along these lines, I would therefore consider this material's ideal purpose would be to replace carbon fibre and fibre glass composite material technology in Aerospace applications like fueslage/wing materials in the latest Airbus A380's and Boeing 787 dreamliners where high strength, flexibility and low fatigue material properties are required.

My 2 cents

RE: Revolutionary...
By Exirtis on 10/6/2007 3:55:35 AM , Rating: 5
It is obvious from the photos, the material is highly flexible, thus bearing no bending strength (unless coupled with other substrates), and I would suggest that a knife or guillotine would slice thru the material quite easily.

Note necessarily. The material's flexibility appears to be largly based upon its thinness (valid comparisons are tin foil and steel wool vs. greater quantities of the same material) and, were it thicker, it might very well have rigidity comparable to steel. This is likelihood is also supported by the summary:

Researcher Nicolas Kotov considered dubbing the material “Plastic Steel” but decided the material was not pliable enough for the moniker.

It's simply that when you have that sort of a ratio of dimension/surface-area to thickness, you almost always end up with very flexible object.

RE: Revolutionary...
By Exirtis on 10/6/2007 3:59:03 AM , Rating: 2
Hmmm, I should've proofread more carefully before posting or perhaps I just shouldn't post this late... probably both.

My apologies for typos/errors.

RE: Revolutionary...
By cheetah2k on 10/7/2007 9:32:51 PM , Rating: 2
Obviously as the "I" values of the material increase (section area properties) you will have a more rigid material.

However, as shown in the photos, the material behaviour in its current form is similar to that of glass fibre found in most high strength composite materials.

I would be interested to know its weight properties for various thicknesses per m2, and how it behaves in shear.

RE: Revolutionary...
By spluurfg on 10/6/2007 5:06:11 AM , Rating: 2
It seems extremely malleable and ductile... though as stated it might be due to its thinness. I wonder what they mean by 'strong'... tensile strength/hardness? In many ways such a material could have an advantage versus steel or especially aluminum, as if it isn't brittle, it won't crack but instead simply warp. But then again, in some cases you don't want things to warp. Depends on the application, I suppose, but it certainly sounds neat.

RE: Revolutionary...
By Captain Orgazmo on 10/7/2007 6:00:21 AM , Rating: 2
This wouldn't need to replace carbon fibre, because carbon fibre is already considerably stronger than steel (by weight). It would replace glass, polycarbonate (Lexan), polymethylmethacrylate (Plexi-Glass), and other weaker transparent polymers.

As far as the comments about costs, I though that goes without saying. Also if this can be mass produced, cost will fall as processes evolve and become more efficient, just like with any material.

RE: Revolutionary...
By MonkeyPaw on 10/6/2007 12:30:02 AM , Rating: 5
I can't wait for this technology to find its way into drinking straws. No longer will we have to worry about cracking the straw while trying to remove that pesky paper wrapper.

RE: Revolutionary...
By cheetah2k on 10/7/2007 9:23:47 PM , Rating: 2
That would mean we would have to sell the technology to China where all the straws in the world are made?

I dont think so Batman!

RE: Revolutionary...
By Polynikes on 10/7/2007 12:31:31 PM , Rating: 2
I was thinking more along the lines of using it as a substitute for steel (or other metals) to save weight, like in the chassis or body panels of a car. Imagine what amazing performance you could get out of cars whose formerly metal parts now weigh a fraction of the previous weight. Too bad this stuff probably isn't as heat-resistant as steel, as you could use it in the engine, too.

RE: Revolutionary...
By Captain Orgazmo on 10/7/2007 2:53:08 PM , Rating: 2
2 words: carbon fibre

so how strong is it, exactly?
By Fenixgoon on 10/5/2007 6:06:32 PM , Rating: 4
strong as steel can mean many things, given that you have shear and tensile strengths and moduli, isotropy/anisotropy, strain rate behavior (plastics are typically *very* strain rate sensitive),and many other mechanical properties :P

By Trippytiger on 10/5/2007 6:11:22 PM , Rating: 4
That's exactly what I was wondering! Some more specific data would be really useful for understanding how this material really compares to steel.

RE: so how strong is it, exactly?
By Egglick on 10/5/2007 6:19:36 PM , Rating: 3
Exactly. In addition to the shear and tensile strengths you mentioned, there's also Compressive strength, Impact strength, Fatigue strength.....probably Torsional strength and a few others as well.

So basically, unless they say in which manner it's "equal" to the strength of steel, their words mean very little.

RE: so how strong is it, exactly?
By RyanVM on 10/6/2007 12:42:38 PM , Rating: 2
I would think that creep would be one of the most important things if it were being considered for structural purposes.

RE: so how strong is it, exactly?
By borowki on 10/5/2007 7:29:15 PM , Rating: 2
Steel is actually not terribly strong. It is tough --a quality you need in more applications.

RE: so how strong is it, exactly?
By Chuckles on 10/6/2007 12:27:57 PM , Rating: 2
Well, one of the parts I work with uses 8620 wrought steel.

250-300 ksi (thousand psi) ultimate strength, 12% elongation at break. It's STRONG and tough.

RE: so how strong is it, exactly?
By TheBaker on 10/5/2007 9:00:40 PM , Rating: 2
Kinda like "The strands of a spider's web are stronger than steel." Sure they are, but I can still break them with my face when I walk into one.

RE: so how strong is it, exactly?
By nurbsenvi on 10/5/2007 10:15:56 PM , Rating: 1
e.. heh...

By Christopher1 on 10/6/2007 10:30:35 PM , Rating: 1
Yeah, because they are extremely THIN compared to your face, so of course your face or arm is going to be able to break them.

It's when you start making them a little thicker that you realize "WHOA! This stuff could actually be used to make homes much stronger than they are now, by putting a millimeter thick layer of the stuff in home walls!"

Perfect Picture
By Ytsejamer1 on 10/5/2007 5:35:40 PM , Rating: 5
I thought of that scene before I even got to reading the article...well done! :) quaint...ha!

I have nothing to add to the point of the article, just an overall comment on the chosen picture...carry on!

RE: Perfect Picture
By MonkeyPaw on 10/5/2007 10:04:18 PM , Rating: 3
So I guess it took that guy 21 years to figure out the formula that Scottie gave him?

RE: Perfect Picture
By 457R4LDR34DKN07 on 10/6/2007 3:21:19 AM , Rating: 2
Transparent aluminum, how do we know he didn't invent the darn thing?

RE: Perfect Picture
By InsaneGain on 10/9/2007 1:35:31 PM , Rating: 2
Referring to the Star Trek movie where Scotty needed some transparent aluminum for a whale holding tank: why did Scotty need a transparent tank to hold the whales? Why couldn't he just make the tank out of normal, opaque aluminum?

RE: Perfect Picture
By VoodooChicken on 10/9/2007 3:46:45 PM , Rating: 2
If I remember correctly, Scottie bartered the formula in exchange for actual material. I'm also trying to remember correctly, I don't know if the tank was actually transparent, I'm remembering invisible/cloaked stuff.

Transparent Aluminum
By Martimus on 10/5/2007 8:28:31 PM , Rating: 2
I guess that Scotty was wrong, and Transparent Steel came first.

RE: Transparent Aluminum
By viperpa on 10/5/2007 8:35:48 PM , Rating: 2
I was just thinking the same thing. Reminds me of watching Star Trek, The Voyage Home. It's amazing how technology is advancing from the latter half of the 20th century into the 21st century.

I will probably be pushing up daises before I get to see the results of it.

RE: Transparent Aluminum
By DOSGuy on 10/6/2007 9:40:48 AM , Rating: 2
As soon as I saw this headline, I said "please let the picture be of Scotty from Star Trek IV." The other thought that came to mind was the Sentinels from the X-Men cartoon, who were built from plastic that was ten times stronger than steel. </geekmode>

Anyway, I'm never surprised by these advances in science, but I'm always amazed. It may seem like the pace of scientific progress in the 21st century could never match the 20th century, but the signs are there that this will be an incredible era of advancement. There was a recent post about space travel using laser propulsion, and now transparent plastic that's as strong as steel. Technologies from science fiction like Star Trek seem to be getting closer every day.

RE: Transparent Aluminum
By mmntech on 10/6/2007 11:04:23 AM , Rating: 2
Transparasteel introduced in Star Wars.

Glass is technically almost as strong as steel, but too brittle.

The key to this new transpa, as with any building material is cost. If it's too expensive, it probably won't be used. If it's light enough, I can see the airline industry and NASA buying into it big time.

Nano Tech
By Richardito on 10/5/2007 6:06:57 PM , Rating: 2
This is just the beginning of the nano technology avalanche. Being involved in applications using this technology it is very interesting to see new applications. The only barrier now for nano tech is to scale up the manufacturing of not only the nano raw materials, but the products using the nano tech. Only then will these applications be within reach economically for nano tech.

RE: Nano Tech
By BZDTemp on 10/5/2007 9:46:14 PM , Rating: 3
Lets just hope the possible environmental problems with nanotech are handled right from the start else the asbestos will look like nothing in comparison. I really can't imagine nano sized dust will do anything good for our lungs!

All Wet...
By StressStrein on 10/7/2007 1:59:20 PM , Rating: 3
What I found funny is that the material is made of a water soluble substance, and I'm pretty sure clay is hydrophilic. I wouldn't want my wonder material being defeated by ordinary moisture. The other factors to consider are usable service temperature, as it is a polymer material. All in all, this material doesn't seem like it would be the next big thing due to lack of environmental resistance, even if you get past what seems to be an entirely too involved manufacturing process.

RE: All Wet...
By 3kliksphilip on 10/9/2007 3:51:10 PM , Rating: 2
I guess it would have to be galvanized ;)

water soluble?
By jmunjr on 10/5/2007 5:38:36 PM , Rating: 2
so is any part of the final product still water soluble?

Also you misspelled "seams"

RE: water soluble?
By softwiz on 10/5/2007 5:55:06 PM , Rating: 2
Even so, that wouldn't be so bad...

You'd just have treat like a Mogwai.

I wasn't going to say but I'll say it anyway...
By gersson on 10/6/2007 9:20:55 PM , Rating: 2
bullet-proof condoms...

By Christopher1 on 10/6/2007 10:32:57 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, that might be a use for this stuff. If it is VERY hard to stretch and break (meaning it stretches but never tears nor breaks, and keeps the stretched shape for awhile).... it could be a good condom material.

Calm Down...
By Upstone on 10/7/2007 8:49:02 AM , Rating: 3
I think you guys are getting way too excited.

when they say as strong as steal they probably mean same tensile strength as a piece of steel the same thickness.

so how is this usefull?

I think there are plenty of materials that can do this including spider web silk. but armour made out of it would be useless, look up tensile. the only use is things like rope.

Transparent Steel
By Andre Oliveira on 10/6/2007 10:13:30 AM , Rating: 2
I thought Lexan was already considered as strong as steel and extremely tranparent.

By Nossy on 10/6/2007 11:54:57 AM , Rating: 2
So they finally are able to re-engineer what they found at the UFO crash in Rosswell. Just kidding :)

"Hello computer..."
By zsdersw on 10/8/2007 7:32:59 AM , Rating: 2
"Just use the keyboard."

"The keyboard.. how quaint."

Flying People?
By Mitch101 on 10/8/2007 8:38:12 AM , Rating: 2
And the United States new military weapon is the Wonder Woman jet.

By zander55 on 10/8/2007 9:12:14 PM , Rating: 2
so when can i get some for my cell phone screen? it would be nice to watch videos without a scratched up screen. pockets give a lot of abuse.

The emperors new clothes?
By siberus on 10/7/2007 3:04:56 AM , Rating: 1
the idea excites and scares me at the same time

"Let's face it, we're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap - and watch porn." -- Seagate CEO Bill Watkins

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