Monday, December 6, 2010

New rubber could cushion sneakers, spaceships


You might not run faster or jump higher with shoes soled in new super rubber, but they could save your knees and eventually power your iPod. Japanese scientists have created a new kind of carbon-based rubber that can withstand extreme temperatures. This new super rubber could be used in everything from electricity-generating sneaker soles to spaceships traveling to distant moons.


"These properties are totally new and unique and have not previously been shown by any materials," said Ming Xu, a scientist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan.

Like foam earplugs or ordinary rubber, the new carbon nanotube rubber is part of a class of materials known as viscoelastic materials. These are materials that can be twisted, punched, rolled, kicked, stretched and bent—yet return to their original shape.

Under everyday conditions these materials work just fine; they protect delicate eardrums from loud noises and help keep cars on the road. But if you freeze materials like foam ear plugs or rubber with liquid nitrogen or expose them to high heat, like the Japanese researchers did with their new super rubber, these everyday materials will either shatter on contact or melt away.

The new material doesn't shatter or melt, even under temperatures far, far beyond what rubber could endure.

The same goes for extremely cold temperatures. "Any rubber or polymer in general will become brittle" under very cold conditions and could break, said Gogotsi, "but the nanotube rubber will keep bouncing."

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