MIT Chemical Engineers Created New Kind of Plastic That's Twice as Strong as Steel

Chemical engineers from MIT produced a new material that is tougher than steel and as light as plastic. It can also be easily manufactured in bulk.

“We don’t usually think of plastics as being something that you could use to support a building, but with this material, you can enable new things, it has very unusual properties and we’re very excited about that,” says Michael Strano, senior author of the new study.

In the research, Strano and his colleagues devised a new polymerization process that permitted them to create a two-dimensional sheet of polyaramide  — something that scientists in the past had tried to make for decades and thus concluded wrongly that such a structure was impossible to create. They used melamine as monomer building blocks. Under the right conditions, these monomers grew in two dimensional-sheets and formed disks which make the structure very strong.

The MIT researchers proceeded to coat surfaces with films of the new material, which they called 2DPA-1. They found 2DPA-1 to be four to six times harder to be deformed (elastic modulus) than bulletproof glass. It is also twice as hard to break (yield strength) than steel — while having only one-sixth the density of the latter. The material is also impermeable to gases. “This could allow us to create ultrathin coatings that can completely prevent water or gases from getting through. This kind of barrier coating could be used to protect metal in cars and other vehicles, or steel structures,” Strano says.

The Center for Enhanced Nanofluidic Transport (CENT) funded this research.

Image credit: polymer film courtesy of the researchers; Christine Daniloff, MIT

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