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IBM accidentally invents new class of polymers

Self-healing substances are said to be lighter and stronger than current plastics

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IBM says its research arm accidentally invented the first new class of polymers the world has known for decades.

Detailed here in a paper titled Recyclable, Strong Thermosets and Organogels via Paraformaldehyde Condensation with Diamines, the newly-discovered polymers were the result of an accident that saw IBM researcher Jeannette M. Garcia forget to add one ingredient during some lab work. That happy error led the compound she was working on to become hard.

Further investigation showed the resulting compound was a “strong thermosetting polymer”, a substance that forms during heating. As explained in the video below, the chemicals formed in this way possess the useful quality of being self-healing: if you split a piece of the polymer and bring it back into contact with its sibling, the bonds will restore to their original strength.

IBM says the new polymers are also lighter and stronger than existing materials. They also dissolve in liquids where pH <2, which means a possibility of recycling the materials.

Big Blue admits this stuff is not likely to bound out of the lab any week now, but as it relies on newly-discovered compounds that are formed in, and see their component chemicals bond in, new ways, they're jolly excited about future possibilities.

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