A watery, mud-like substance has hit pay dirt for Case Western Reserve University engineering professor David Schiraldi and his research group.
The researchers have created a line of patented foam-like and environmentally friendly polymers, called clay aerogel composites that can take on the shape and size of any container that can hold water from ice cube trays to rubber ducky molds to clam-shell packaging molds that hold and ship electronics. "This is cool stuff," says the associate professor and associate chair of the university's Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering.
When fired in a muffle furnace (a kiln) to 800 degrees centigrade, this material undergoes a chemical transformation. It can become a hard, lightweight ceramic. When mixed with latex, it becomes a bendable material like rubber. If magnetic materials are included in the clay concoction, it becomes a super-lightweight magnet. Combined with the right materials, it can even be an electrical conductor or a catalyst for chemical reactions.
"The flexibility of the clay aerogel composites is amazing," says Schiraldi.
The clay aerogel composites are inexpensive to produce and involve the same kind of freeze-drying process used to make banana chips and coffee.
Schiraldi says almost anyone can make the composites if they have pure clay in a form that resembles cat litter pellets, a blender and a $50,000 freeze dryer.
The researcher bought his equipment with $75,000 he won in the 2005 North Coast Nanotechnology Business Idea Competition that encouraged ideas to create new start-up companies. Schiraldi's used his winnings to establish Aeroclay Inc., and to obtain the AeroClay trademark for the range of possible products.
After Schiraldi came to the university in 2002 and had a graduate student trained and ready by 2004 to take on an "extra unfunded project," Schiraldi's lab began making these new kinds of polymer-b
|Contact: Susan Griffith|
Case Western Reserve University