New Developed Fiber is as Flexible as Elastic But Tough as Steel

Metal-rubber composite

Researchers have developed a fiber that combines the elasticity of rubber with the strength of a metal.

The resulting composite is a sturdier material that can be incorporated into lightweight robotics, packaging materials, next generation textiles and even in biomedical applications.

"A good way to explain the material is to think of elastics and metal wires.An elastic can stretch a lot, but it does not take much force to stretch it.A metal wire requires a lot of force to be stretched, but it does not take much "Our fibers have the best of these two worlds," explained Professor Michael Dickey, of the State University of North Carolina, USA.

The fibers consist of a metal core of gallium encased by an elastic polymer coating.

When placed under stress, the fiber has the strength of the metal core. But when the force is too much and the metal breaks, the fiber does not break - the polymer coating absorbs the tension between the broken metal parts and transfers the voltage back to the still intact parts of the metal core.

"Every time the metal core breaks, it dissipates energy, allowing the fiber to continue to absorb energy as it stretches," explained Dickey. "Instead of splitting in two when stretched, it can stretch up to seven times the original length before breaking, which happens while many additional breaks in the yarn are generated along the way."

Tenacity of the skin

The fiber response is similar to the way human connective tissue is maintained when a bone breaks.

"There is a lot of interest in engineering materials to mimic the tenacity of the skin - and we have developed a fiber that has overcome the tenacity of the skin and is still elastic like the skin," said Dickey.

The fibers can be reused by melting the metal cores again - gallium fuses at a mere 30 ° C, which means that the polymer is not affected.

"This is just a proof of concept, but it has a lot of potential. We are interested to see how these fibers could be used in light robotics or when woven into fabrics for various applications," said Dickey. 

Toughening stretchable fibers via serial metal fracturing Christopher B. Cooper, Ishan D. Joshipura, Dishit P. Parekh, Justin Norkett, Russell Mailen, Victoria M. Miller, Jan Genzer, Michael D. Dickey Science Advances Vol .: 5, no. 2, eaat4600 DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.aat4600

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