Shape-shifting 'superhero' material can lift 1,000 times its weight

Call Wayne Industries! A stretchy new polymer can pack a punch, with a shoelace-size piece able to lift the weight of a liter of soda, its creators say.

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Eric Mack
2 min read

A new polymer boasts traits that seem pulled straight from the pages of a comic book.

The material, developed by University of Rochester scientists, can be triggered to change shape when it comes in contact with body heat, and in the process it lifts 1,000 times its own mass. The super-polymer could one day be used to used to stitch you up after surgery and possibly take form-fitting spandex to a whole new level.

In the video below, chemical engineering professor Mitch Anthamatten demonstrates how the material can be stretched into a new shape, which it can then hold until it comes in contact with body heat and returns to its original form. "Our shape-memory polymer is like a rubber band that can lock itself into a new shape when stretched," Anthamatten said in a release. "But a simple touch causes it to recoil back to its original shape."

The material can also be "tuned" so that a higher or lower temperature triggers it to return to its original or "permanent" shape. But beyond creating a new shape-memory polymer, the team also wanted a material that could pull, or lift, its own weight -- and then some.

"Tuning the trigger temperature is only one part of the story," Anthamatten said. "We also engineered these materials to store large amount of elastic energy, enabling them to perform more mechanical work during their shape recovery."

The result is that when the material is triggered to recoil, it releases stored elastic energy that allows it to take on some heavy lifting. In the case of a piece of the polymer the size of a shoelace, the team claims it would be able to lift a liter of soda.

We don't yet know if this super-strength ability would scale up to the size of say, a red carpet that could fling unsuspecting villains into the air, but if it does I assume somebody will want to order one for Wayne Manor.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Anthamatten hopes the powerful polymer could one day be used in products like artificial skin, body-heat assisted medical dispensers and self-fitting apparel, which is probably another application superheroes might be interested in.