Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have developed a molecule that increases the durability of polymers, making them more similar to metal in their ability to withstand temperature fluctuations. This revolutionary molecule, as yet unnamed, could have broad implications for industries ranging from electronics to aerospace development.
The problem of polymer degradation
Polymers are widely used in everyday objects due to their low cost, low density, good thermal and electrical insulation properties, and high corrosion resistance. However, under constant exposure to heat and cold, materials, including polymers, expand and contract, which leads to their destruction. Unlike metals and ceramics, which expand and contract less, polymers expand and contract at different rates.
A unique molecule
A research team from Sandia National Laboratories has modified a molecule that contracts rather than expands when heated. When this molecule is added to a polymer, it reduces its compression, making it more similar to metals. Erica Redline, lead researcher, calls this molecule “pretty remarkable” because it resembles a metal.
Revolutionary application of polymers
The inspiration for this game-changing molecule came from customer complaints about the fragility of smartphones, which are made up of different materials that react differently to temperature changes. The introduction of this molecule into polymers, according to the researchers, could revolutionize a wide range of applications, including electronics, communication systems, solar cells, automotive parts, printed circuit boards, aerospace structures, defense systems and flooring.
Benefits and future innovations
One of the advantages of this molecule is its versatility in 3D printing. Different parts of the polymer can contain different percentages of the molecule, allowing materials to be customized for different areas of the product. This opens up new design possibilities and allows for variation in thermal behavior. In addition, the molecule allows the use of heavy fillers to be eliminated, which reduces the mass of the materials. This mass reduction is especially important for industries such as aerospace, where every gram saved is important.
Scaling up production
Although researchers have only obtained a small amount of the molecule so far, they are actively working to scale up production. Currently, it takes about 10 days to produce 0.2-0.3 ounces (7-10 g) of the molecule.
Erica Redline, a materials scientist who led the research team, said: “To get a molecule that behaves like a metal is pretty amazing.” Jason Dugger, a chemical engineer at Sandia, emphasized the molecule’s potential for future innovation: “The molecule not only solves current problems, but also greatly opens up the space for new developments in the future.”