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New Flexible Material Conducts Electricity

A new type of plastic-based polyaniline, a polymer that has the same characteristics as metal, was unveiled by a team of South Korean scientists. The polyaniline they made can conduct electricity at ultra-cold temperatures, and duplicates traits heretofore found only in pure metallic materials.

The new plastic-based polyaniline is flexible; it can be made pliable, it can mix with other polymers and can be made into any flexible shape required.

However, polyaniline and other conducting polymers do not normally behave as real metals because they are too structurally disordered. Free electrons are therefore "scattered" within the material by the disorder. In metals, in contrast, the electrons are mainly scattered by thermal vibrations of atoms. Since the atoms vibrate less as the metal is cooled, it conducts better at low temperatures The new polyaniline films show both the optical and electrical properties characteristic of metals. The team made the material by doping it with sulphonic acid and synthesizing it within oily droplets suspended in water. This new technique produced films that are more structurally ordered than polyaniline made using conventional methods. (From Plastics go metallic)

It is expected that the new material could be used making flexible RFID tags to be embedded in cloth or other flexible consumer goods, in the manufacturing of flexible displays and TVs and to make devices that block out harmful electromagnetic waves.

This really reminds me of a material from science fiction writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's classic 1974 novel The Mote in God's Eye. When human beings first encounter a native of the Mote civilization, they see it rewiring a circuit board by hand with an unusual sort of 'goop':

"Now the alien's making something. I don't understand what's keeping it... It's got the cover off the control panel. It's rewiring things. A moment ago it was squeezing silver toothpaste in a ribbon along the printed circuitry. I'm only telling you what it looks like, of course..." (Read more about metal paste)

The Motie engineers loved materials that could do more than one thing; for example, they came up with a superconductor of heat that would be handy (if it existed!) If you like stories about remarkable new materials that human engineers have actually created, a nanofabric just one atom in thickness might interest you. Read more about the new polyaniline polymers here.

(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission from Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction.)