Researchers from the University of California, Merced, have made strides in developing a novel material with adaptive durability, inspired by the unique behavior of cornstarch in cooking. This innovative material toughens up when subjected to hits or stretches, offering enhanced protection against damage and stress.

Drawing inspiration from the distinct properties of cornstarch slurry, which exhibits liquid-like behavior under gentle stirring and solid-like behavior under rapid impact, the research team aimed to replicate this phenomenon in a polymer material. Their approach involved blending conjugated polymers known for their electrical conductivity with specific molecules to achieve the desired characteristics.

By incorporating long molecules of poly(2-acrylamido-2-methylpropanesulfonic acid), short polyaniline molecules, and the conductor poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) polystyrene sulfonate (PEDOT:PSS), the researchers produced a film that displayed adaptive durability. This means that the material toughened in response to rapid impacts, with increased toughness observed with the addition of 10 percent more PEDOT:PSS.

The unique composition of the material, resembling miniature meatballs in a tangled bowl of spaghetti, allowed it to absorb the shock of impacts without losing its conductivity. Further enhancements were achieved by introducing positively charged 1,3-propanediamine nanoparticles, which improved toughness while maintaining material integrity.

The potential applications of this innovative material extend beyond the lab, with possibilities in electronic wearables, smartwatch bands, wearable sensors for health monitoring, and even personalized electronic prosthetics. The researchers have already experimented with electronic prosthetics made from this versatile material, hinting at its transformative potential in various fields.

As materials scientist Yue Wang notes, this unconventional property opens doors to a range of applications, underscoring the exciting possibilities that lie ahead. The research findings were presented at the Spring 2024 meeting of the American Chemical Society, marking a significant step forward in material science innovation.

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