New super-rubber is stretchy at extreme temperatures

By Boonsri Dickinson | Dec 3, 2010

Scientists discovered how to make nanotubes behave like rubber. The new material could be used to make things like wrinkle-free clothing or shoes that reduce the impact of the stride.

Japanese researchers developed a new super-rubber that could be used in anything from your running shoes to the next generation spacecraft. The new super-rubber material is stretchy like elastic, but can move like honey.

You’re probably familiar with this class of material already – viscoelastic materials give earplugs and bed mattresses their fluff.

The material can withstand extreme temperatures in the range of -320 degrees Fahrenheit to 1,832 F. The new material remains stable at really low and high temperatures. Normal rubber would melt if subjected to high temperatures.

It can also conduct electricity. No matter how you manipulate it — twist it or stretch it — it retreats back to its original form.

In the journal Science, the researchers describe how they made this new super-rubber. The researchers used a catalyst to help grow the nanotubes from ethylene. The scientists added some water to make the nanotubes grow. The resulting material is essentially a huge network of nanotubes. The researchers describe it as a random bundle of hair or vines in a jungle.

The connections act like springs and give the material its elastic property.

Carbon nanotubes have a reputation for being amazing in the material science world — they have high electrical conductivity and high tensile strength. Now, this new material adds this property to the list: Carbon nanotubes exhibit viscoelasticity that withstand extreme temperatures.

Yury Gogotsi of Drexel University told Physics World that the entangled nanotube material “is a kind of versatile rubber that could be used in cold interstellar space or inside a high-temperature vacuum furnace”.

It’s easy to produce, but it’s still expensive.

Don’t expect the super-rubber to hit the mass market anytime soon. But it’s not hard to imagine how carbon nanotubes could one day improve the bounce of our rubber products.

Just think: It would be cool to have the rubber put into the sole of a shoe. That way when you run, the super-rubber shoe could harvest electricity for you.

In related carbon nanotube news, SmartPlanet’s Andrew Nusca wrote about a high-performance fiber made from carbon nanotubes and a polymer. The new kind of fiber could be tougher than Kevlar and can absorb and dissipate large amounts of energy before it fails.

via Popular Science and Physics World

SOURCE: SMART PLANET

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