2DPA-1: New Polymer That Is Stronger Than Steel and Lighter Than Plastic

New Polymer
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All plastics fall under polymers, consisting of monomers or building block chains. Adding new molecules to the ends of the monomer chains induces them to grow. Once the polymers form, manufacturers can mold the polymers into 3D objects like water bottles through the injection molding process.  

For a long time, polymer scientists have posited that if it is possible to induce polymers to grow into 2D sheets, the polymers will turn into something that will be lightweight but exceedingly strong. But several decades of experimentation and research did not yield the result they were expecting. Thus, they concluded that it is impossible to develop 2D polymer sheets.

The new process from MIT

The scientists at MIT, led by Professor Michael Strano, published their study about developing a new polymerization process. This new method allowed them to generate polyaramide, a 2D polymer sheet named 2DPA-1.

They added melamine compound to the monomer building blocks, which allowed the monomers to form disks and grow in two dimensions. As a result, the disks stack up on top of each other. In addition, the hydrogen bond between the layers held them together, resulting in a solid and stable structure.  

According to Prof. Strano, the formation happens simultaneously in their advanced solution. After synthesizing the material, they could spin-coat super strong yet very thin films. As the material can self-assemble in the solution, the professor added that increasing the amount of starting materials could make the 2DPA-1 in larger quantities.

The new process from MIT
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Auspicious properties

The MIT scientists showed that 2DPA-1 could easily coat various surfaces. Professor Strano explained that with the advancement in polymer research, they could create a material that will be easier to turn into a thin yet very strong material. He added that his team found out that the elastic modulus (a measure of stiffness or rigidity of a material) of 2DPA-1 is about four and six times higher than that of bulletproof glass, which is extraordinary.

Further, the yield strength (amount of force needed to break a material) of 2DPA-1 is twice higher than that of steel. This means that even if the polymer has only around one-sixth of steel’s density, it is by far stronger.

Another outstanding feature of the new polyaramide is that it is gas-resistant. The monomer-based material is impenetrable because the layers are locked together. On the other hand, polymers that form from coiled chains have gaps that allow gases to pass through. The head of the research team explained that this property would enable them to create an ultrathin polymer coating yet prevent the penetration of gas or water. Thus, the head of the scientists said that the 2DPA-1 could have various applications, such as protecting metal parts in cars and structures made of steel and other metals.

Future applications 

The MIT scientists already predict that the new material they developed will significantly contribute to several industries. Manufacturers can use 2DPA-1 to coat car parts. They could use it on cellphones, other gadgets, and various building materials.  

2DPA-1 is not yet available commercially, but the MIT team has already filed two patents for their novel polymerization process. The team is now closely studying how the polymer formed into 2D sheets. They are also experimenting with how to create other novel materials by changing the molecular makeup of the polymer.