For a long time, choosing materials often meant trade-offs. Iron is durable, but susceptible to rusting and also heavy. Glass is light, but cracks and breaks easily. Plastics won’t shatter, but are prone to scratching. That said, materials sciences have advanced tremendously over the past few decades, and using a new polymerization process, researchers at MIT have created a material called 2DPA-1 that is lighter than many traditional plastics, but stronger than steel.
Scientists claim that 2DPA-1’s elastic modulus, which measures the amount of force needed to deform the material, is somewhere between four to six times that of bulletproof glass. As for breaking, that’s measured with yield strength, which is twice that of steel.
The science is rather nuanced. Scientists long believed that if they could create 2-D polymer sheets, they’d be able to craft incredibly strong, yet lightweight materials. However, producing such 2-D sheets has proven extremely difficult. While trying to connect molecules to each other, some tend to rotate, breaking the sheet and creating a 3-D structure. The result? Heavier substances, and often materials that are not as strong as they could be.
Through the now-patented research from MIT, researchers devised a method for making 2-D polymer sheets and stacking them on top of each other. This greatly increases strength while keeping 2DPA-1 light. Furthermore, the lack of gaps between molecules results in the material being impervious to gases and liquids as well.
Perhaps even better, researchers believe that production can be scaled and the substance should end up quite affordable. 2DPA-1 has potential applications for coating automotive parts, use in electronics such as cell phones, and even potentially as a building material for bridges, among other things.