Far Out Tech

This Crazy Material Becomes Stronger the More You Stretch It

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Sometimes science can be counterintuitive. But also completely useful. Let me explain.

When you stretch something, it generally becomes thinner and weaker. As the material stretches, or deforms, its molecular structure becomes strained. The exact opposite is true with a new protein material developed by chemists at UC San Diego.

In other words, a material that becomes stronger the more you strain it? Yes, it’s for real.

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UC San Diego says the researchers have created an “adaptive protein crystal” that essentially thickens when stretched. Sounds cool, but what’s the real-world application for this crazy science stuff? Right now, the idea is that it could be applied to body armor -- especially if the material strengthens when a bullet strikes.

Or even running shoes. Imagine if shoe soles could thicken for improved shock absorption as the heel hits the pavement. Say goodbye to shin splints, baby (maybe)!

As detailed in a recent online paper for Nature, the team explained that the square-shaped protein “adapts,” meaning it can expand or contract in the opposite direction of a force being applied to it. 

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“These materials are very easy to make, yet provide many new research directions both in terms of materials applications and understanding the fundamental principles of nanoscale self-assembly,” said UC San Diego professor of chemistry and biochemistry Akif Tezcan.

“Easy” is relative, but it’s hard to argue about the prospect of stronger, more effective body armor.  And, heck, sign me up for a pair of those sneakers.