Being a chemistry nut myself, I strongly believe that chemistry is undeniably awesome! It defines the world around us in arguably the most organic and tangible way possible. However, it is extremely difficult to get chemistry to obey your every command; some may even deem certain things absolutely impossible due to their sheer difficulty. But what if there was a way to do the impossible?

This is precisely what chemical engineers at MIT have done. They created a new material that is stronger than steel and as light as plastic. It can be easily manufactured in large quantities.

The implications of this are huge! Uses of such a material could include a lightweight, durable coating for car parts or cell phones, or as a building material for bridges and other structures. Its strength makes it ideal for such uses, and its lightweight properties could potentially reduce costs for transportation, hence reducing carbon emissions (yay!).

This new material (dubbed 2DPA-1) is a two-dimensional polymer that self-assembles into sheets, unlike all other polymers, which form one-dimensional spaghetti-like chains. Until recently, scientists had believed, for decades, that it was impossible to induce polymers to form 2D sheets.

When we think of polymers, we usually think of plastics. Polymers consist of chains of building blocks called monomers. These chains grow by adding new molecules onto their ends. They can then be shaped into three-dimensional objects, such as water bottles.

But exactly how strong is it? Let’s put that into context. The researchers found that the new material’s elastic modulus (a measure of how much force it takes to deform a material) is between four and six times greater than that of bulletproof glass. They also found that its yield strength (how much force it takes to break the material) is twice that of steel, even though the material has only about one-sixth the density of steel.

Another one of its key features is that it is impermeable to gases. Whilst some polymers allow gases to pass through, the new material’s monomers link together much like LEGOs, so other molecules can’t get between them. This makes it ideal to be used as an ultrathin coating that completely prevents the passage of water and gas.

Will this be the future of materials technology? If that’s the case, it definitely needs a better name.


Dawood Hussain – Year 11