New Plastic Conducts Electricity Like Metal

Scientists with the University of Chicago have discovered a way to create a material that can be made like a plastic, but conducts electricity more like a metal. The research, published Oct. 26 in Nature, shows how to make a kind of material in which the molecular fragments are jumbled and disordered, but can still conduct electricity extremely well.

This goes against all of the rules we know about for conductivity—to a scientist, it’s kind of seeing a car driving on water and still going 70 mph. But the finding could also be extraordinarily useful; if you want to invent something revolutionary, the process often first starts with discovering a completely new material.

In principle, this opens up the design of a whole new class of materials that conduct electricity, are easy to shape, and are very robust in everyday conditions,” said John Anderson, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago and the senior author on the study. “Essentially, it suggests new possibilities for an extremely important technological group of materials,” said Jiaze Xie (PhD’22, now at Princeton), the first author on the paper.

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Fabric Heats Up and Cools Down its Wearer

Textile engineers have developed a fabric woven out of ultra-fine nano-threads made in part of phase-change materials and other advanced substances that combine to produce a fabric that can respond to changing temperatures to heat up and cool down its wearer depending on need. The material that can store and release large amounts of heat when the material changes phase from liquid to solid. Combining the threads with electrothermal and photothermal coatings that enhance the effect, they have in essence developed a fabric that can both quickly cool the wearer down and warm them up as conditions change.

Such fabrics often make use of phase-change materials (PCMs) that can store and later release large amounts of heat when the material changes phase (or state of matter, for example, from solid to liquid). One such material is paraffin, which can in principle be incorporated into a textile material in different ways. When the temperature of the environment around the paraffin reaches its melting point, its physical state changes from solid to liquid, which involves an absorption of heat. Then heat is released when the temperature reaches paraffin’s freezing point.


The problem here has been that the manufacturing methods for phase-change micro-capsules are complex and very costly,” said Hideaki Morikawa, corresponding author of the paper and an advanced textiles engineer with the Institute for Fiber Engineering at Shinshu University. “Worse still, this option offers insufficient flexibility for any realistically wearable application.”

So the researchers turned to an option called coaxial electrospinning. Electrospinning is a method of manufacturing extremely fine fibers with diameters on the order of nanometers. When a polymer solution contained in a bulk reservoir, typically a syringe tipped with a needle, is connected to a high-voltage power source, electric charge accumulates on the surface of the liquid.

A paper describing the manufacturing technique appeared in the American Chemical Society journal ACSNano.

Bionic Jellyfish

It may sound more like science fiction than science fact, but researchers have created bionic jellyfish by embedding microelectronics into these ubiquitous marine invertebrates with hopes to deploy them to monitor and explore the world’s oceans.

A small prosthetic enabled the jellyfish to swim three times faster and more efficiently without causing any apparent stress to the animals, which have no brain, central nervous system or pain receptors, the researchers said.

The next steps will be to test ways to control where the jellyfish go and develop tiny sensors that could perform long-term measurements of ocean conditions such as temperature, salinity, acidity, oxygen levels, nutrients and microbial communities. They even envision installing miniscule cameras.


It’s very sci-fi futuristic,” said Stanford University bioengineer Nicole Xu, co-author of the research published this week in the journal Science Advances. “We could send these bionic jellyfish to different areas of the ocean to monitor signs of climate change or observe natural phenomena.

An initial goal will be deep dives because measurements at great depths are a major gap in our understanding of the oceans, added California Institute of Technology mechanical engineering professor John Dabiri, the study’s other co-author.

Basically, we’d release the bionic jellyfish at the surface, have it swim down to increasing depths, and see just how far we can get it to go down into the ocean and still make it back to the surface with data,” Dabiri added.