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Scientists discover plastic-like material that conducts like metal
by Joe Fisher
Washington DC (UPI) Oct 27, 2021

Scientists at the University of Chicago published a groundbreaking discovery Wednesday after finding a new material that can be produced similarly to plastic but is conductive more like metal.

The report, published in the Oct. 27 issue of Nature, describes a material that does not conform to the common molecular framework of other known conductors. Classic conductors such as metals and newer organic conductors are made of straight and uniform rows of atoms and molecules. This new material, which does not yet have a name, has "jumbled and disordered" fragments of molecules.

"Essentially, it suggests new possibilities for an extremely important technological group of materials," said Jiaze Xie, the first author of the report.

The rules of what properties make a material capable of conducting electricity are challenged by this discovery. Conductive materials are crucial to the production of many devices so often relied on today. From the mobile devices in our pockets to the miles of cable bringing electricity to our homes, conductors surround us almost everywhere we go.

John Anderson, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago and the senior author of the study, researched how this new material is able to conduct electricity along with Xie and their team. He said, based on everything we know about conductivity, the material should not be able to act similarly to a metal.

"There isn't a solid theory to explain this," he said.

There are theories though. One of them is that the material is formed in layers. When those layers rotate, even becoming disordered, electrons are still able to move in any direction as long as the layers are touching. Anderson likens it to a child's toy.

"It's almost like conductive Play-Doh you can smush it into place and it conducts electricity," Anderson said.

The drawback of organic conductors has been that they wear down over time, unlike metals which are consistent. So far the new material "easily and strongly" conducts electricity.

So what is the significance of a new conductive material when metals are already great conductors? Metals require an arduous process of melting and forming to be made into their desired shape for production. This new material can be fabricated with relative ease under flexible conditions, opening the door for new innovations.

"We think we can make it 2-D or 3-D, make it porous, or even introduce other functions by adding different linkers or nodes," said Xie.

Related Links
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

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