natural materials

Scientists at the University of Chicago have discovered a way to create a material that is made like plastic but conducts more like metal. The research, published in Nature on the 26th, shows how to create a material that is disjointed with molecular fragments, but still conducts electricity extremely well. The breakthrough suggests a completely new design principle for electronics that could open the way for the invention of novel materials.

The research goes against the rules of conductance and, to scientists, is like seeing a car on the water but still traveling at about 100 kilometers per hour. “In principle, this opens up the design of an entirely new material that is conductive, easy to shape, and very strong under everyday conditions,” said study senior author John Anderson, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago.

In the manufacture of any type of electronic device, whether it’s a smartphone, solar panel or TV, conductive materials are an absolute necessity. By far the oldest and largest group of conductors are metals: copper, gold, aluminum. About 50 years ago, scientists were able to create conductors made of organic materials using a chemical treatment called “doping.” “Doping” refers to sprinkling different atoms or electrons into materials that are more flexible and easier to process than traditional metals, but the problem is that they are less stable and if exposed to moisture or high temperatures, they may will lose electrical conductivity.

Scientists believe that a material must have a straight, ordered arrangement of molecules inside to conduct electricity efficiently. So, the researchers tested nickel atoms by threading them like pearls into a string of molecular beads made of carbon and sulfur.

To the scientists’ surprise, the material conducts electricity easily and very strongly. More importantly, it is very stable. The new material can be fabricated at room temperature and is not affected by heat, cold, humidity and acid-base environments.

Even more surprising, the molecular structure of this material is disordered. “It shouldn’t be a metal fundamentally,” Anderson said. “There isn’t a solid theory for that.”

Scientists are trying to understand how the material conducts electricity. After testing, simulations and theoretical work, they believe the material can form layers, like the flakes in lasagna. Even though the sheets are rotated laterally and no longer form a neat lasagna stack, the electrons can still move horizontally or vertically as long as the sheets are in contact with each other.

“It’s almost like conductive plasticine, put it in place and it will conduct electricity,” Anderson said.

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natural materials