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Stanford and IBM Test the Limits of Toughness in Nanocomposites

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Stanford and IBM researchers inserted chain-like molecules of polystyrene—the same material in a styrofoam coffee cup—between layers of nanocomposites to make these materials tougher and more flexible. (Image Credit: Dauskardt Lab, Stanford University)b, Stanford University)

Stanford and IBM researchers inserted chain-like molecules of polystyrene—the same material in a styrofoam coffee cup—between layers of nanocomposites to make these materials tougher and more flexible.(Image Credit: Dauskardt Lab, Stanford University)

By slipping springy polystyrene molecules between layers of tough yet brittle composites, researchers made materials stronger and more flexible, in the process demonstrating the theoretical limits of how far this toughening technique could go. Researchers at Stanford and IBM have tested the upper boundaries of mechanical toughness in a class of lightweight nanocomposites toughened by individual molecules, and offered a new model for how they get their toughness. The potential applications for nanocomposites cut across many industries, from computer circuitry to transportation to athletics. They could even revolutionize spaceflight with their ability to withstand tension and extreme temperatures. The study was led by Reinhold Dauskardt, a professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford University, and Geraud Dubois, of IBM's Almaden Research Center. The study was sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.