An innovative development by engineers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is challenging the belief that when it comes to structural materials, strength comes at the expense of toughness. By creating an incredibly thin nanofiber from a synthetic polymer, researchers believe they have found a loophole around those beliefs. Yuris Dzenis, team leader, said this could revolutionize manufactured goods by offering a lightweight option that is equally as safe as heavier ones.
A technique called electrospinning, which involves applying high voltage to a polymer solution until a small jet of liquid ejects, creates a continuous length of nanofibers. As the fibers grow thinner, they also grow stronger and tougher.
According to Dzenis, the toughness comes from the nanofibers’ high amorphous regions, which allow the molecular chains to move around more and absorb energy more efficiently. This new nanofiber would allow for cars, bridges and airplanes to get a lot lighter without sacrificing any of their strength.