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 ?Smart skin? holds promise for morphing wings and wearable computers

This story is from the category Sounding the Future
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Date posted: 09/08/2004

A piece of some rubbery substance, fairly translucent, yet can hold a current as well as a piece of steel. It is scrunched up into a ball, twisted back upon itself like a squeegee, then stretched to twice its normal length, blasted in a furnace, and doused with fuel. All throughout this, and after, it continues to conduct as well as it did before - and returns to its normal shape after you've finished, without even a blemish.

Sounds fabulous? Its called Metal Rubber, and is the millimetre thick product of chemists at NanoSonic in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA. According to NanoSonic, its particular properties make it unique in the world of material chemistry, and that has high profile corporations and governments sitting uop and taking notice.

At this stage, however, NanoSonic is busy meeting the demand for its 12-inch-by-12-inch samples, never mind anything else. Metal Rubber is a true nanotechnology product, and is built up, molecule by molecule by custom-built robots which take up to three days, working round the clock to make a sample.

The manufacturing process, called electrostatic self-assembly, starts with two buckets of water-based solutions?one filled with positively charged metallic ions, the other with oppositely charged elastic polymers. The robot dips a charged substrate (glass, for example) alternately from one bucket to the next. The dipping slowly builds up tight, organized layers of molecules, bonded firmly by opposing charges. Afterward the substrate is removed, leaving a freestanding sheet of Metal Rubber.

Metal Rubber looks to debut commercially in a year, with plenty of investor backing. Whilst it will revolutionise the tactonics and haptics sectors, not to mention aerospace and construction, the first uses are likely to be more minor - flexible crcuitry in devices you could throw down a lift shaft, and still use afterward.

See the full Story via external site: www.popsci.com

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