Rubber Materials That Can Take a Beating Without Losing Their Bounce
Research could pave the way to flexible-yet-durable materials that help cut down on microplastic pollution from things like the wear and tear of car tires.
When it comes to the environmental impacts of cars, much ink has been spilled on tailpipe emissions. But there’s another environmental threat from cars you might not think about: microplastic pollution.
Car tires are made of rubber but also plastic polymers and other materials. Tiny bits of these materials, most a fraction the size of a grain of sand, slough off whenever tires rub against the road. Some are washed into soils and waterways; others enter the air, where their long-term effects on the health of humans and other living things are unknown.
Duke chemistry professor Stephen Craig thinks we can do better. In a study published June 22 in the journal Science, he and colleagues describe a way to make rubbery materials an order of magnitude tougher, without compromising other aspects of their performance.
Craig is part of a team from Duke and MIT that has been studying the molecular reactions within a class of flexible polymer-based materials called elastomers. Think rubber tires, the nitrile in medical gloves, or the silicone in soft contact lenses. What makes these materials amazing is the fact that they can be stretched and squished repeatedly and still return to their original shape. …