Mind & Matter


Viscoelastic Super-Rubber

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Viscoelastic super-rubber. Photo: Science/AAAS, Courtesy: Popular Science


Viscoelastic materials perform important functions in architecture and product design, particularly when flexibility and malleability is desired, as in building expansion joints. They also play an important role in surfaces that come into contact with the body, such as foam cushions or mattresses. But their primary drawback is their limited temperature range; they break down when too hot and become rigid when too cold.

A team of Japanese scientists has recently developed a new super-rubber that can withstand a broad range of temperatures and still exhibit peak performance. The material is composed of a spaghetti-like mesh of carbon nanotubes in single-, double-, and triple-wall manifestations. The random, tangled network of nanotubes behaves like a compound spring, causing the material to be incredibly elastic.

In a recently published article in Science, the viscoelastic super-rubber is said to withstand temperatures from –320 F to 1,832 F, a surprisingly wide range. According to Drexel University nanotechnologist Yury Gogotsi, "This exceptional range could be used to build anything from spacecraft to sneaker shock absorbers." Future building components could also benefit from the greatly increased durability.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.