The Loh Down On Science

Elastic Plastic

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's ... super high-tech silly putty?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

And on shapeable plastic.

French researchers from the Paris Institute of Technology did a whole lot of complex chemistry to create a plastic that's rock solid. But add enough heat and the chemical bonds break--then immediately re-bond with new, but less stable, partners.

Result? A weaker structure, but one that maintains the same number of total bonds. Upshot? The plastic becomes malleable, but never melts into an amorphous goo.

Reshape the elastic plastic, let it cool, and the bonds snap back into their natural, more stable--that is, rock solid--state.

Even better, it can be re-heated and re-shaped re-peatedly and always re-tains its integrity. Picture it: You could mold that plastic cup into a plastic toy elephant, and back into a cup again!

The stuff may soon find its way into almost everything, from sports equipment and electronics to cars and aircraft.

Which could leave many an industry CEO, well ... bent out of shape. Just saying.



The Loh Down on Science, online, at lohdown.org. Produced by 89.3 KPCC and the California Institute of Technology, and made possible by TIAA-CREF.

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