There is a very cool discovery to report this week out of Duke University, now to be known as those “Plastic Fantastics.” The team has invented a “mechanophore” a material that responds to mechanical force rather than light, heat or chemical exposure. In this case, they have invested a plastic that actually gets stronger when it is stressed. That’s right. As mechanical force or pressure is add, it gets stronger — a breakthrough that could transform material for cellphones, medical devices, prosthetic limbs etc.
The researchers constructed a unique structure with carbon atoms arranged in a series of triangles extending down in long chains with two bromine atoms at one point. This succeeded in turning “destructive” energy into “constructive” energy. When the chains are pressured or tugged, they tear on one side and this breaks the triangle into a longer chain, which allowed for new bonding sites at the bromine locations for a second molecule to come in. This bonding is made possible by a molecule called a carboxylate that increases the material’s strength at the site of damage. The result was that the plastic transforms under pressure from pliable to stiff. What is even cooler is that the material, when dissolved in a solution, still reformed as a layer on the side of the container. It is the plastic version of Flubber.