The Loh Down On Science

Iron Bag

Scientists devise paper bags with the tensile strength of steel.

Paper, plastic or SKILLET strength?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

saying, leave it to a structural engineer to create paper bags ten times stronger than a lunch sack. In fact, with the tensile strength of iron.

That man is Lars Berglund of Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology. His paper simply won't rip.

Paper pulp comes from cellulose--the backbone of plant cell walls. It's naturally strong.

But pulping weakens the he-man strength of cellulose, because The process softens and chops cellulose into porous fibers that break under stress.

So to make stronger paper, Berglund disintegrated cellulose even MORE.

He used an industrial-size type of Cuisinart to smash the fibers, then added carboxymethanol, an ultra-powerful enzyme. The one-two punch broke cellolose down into fibers a thousand times smaller than normal.

Those molecular-sized fibers were too small to be porous-but had more surfaces to stick together.

The most likely use of the new paper will be in medicine: think scaffolding for growing replacement organs and tissue.

But in the meantime, a garbage bag that doesn't break halfway to the can. Too much to ask? Guess so.


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