Annual Report 2002 - Cornell University
003 Selected Faculty Research

23 Creating a flexible ceramic material

Ulrich B. Wiesner, Materials Science and Engineering, and research group developed a new class of hybrid materials called flexible ceramics. Wiesner's group was surprised to see, through the transmission electron microscope (TEM), that the molecular structure of the new material, known as a cubic bicontinuous structure, corresponded to age-old mathematical predictions. They named the molecular structure, with its hexagonal symmetry, a "plumber's nightmare." The perfect symmetrical shapes found in nature fascinated the researchers. Working in nanoscale chemistry, they decided to mimic nature by using organic polymers that can self-assemble chemically into nanostructures with different symmetries. Wiesner's group melded the polymer with an inorganic material, a ceramic (silica-type material), to create the hybrid material with a combination of properties—flexibility and structure control from the polymer and functionality from the ceramic. The new hybrid material is transparent and bendable but with substantial strength, and it does not shatter like ceramics. Applications for the new material are wide-ranging, from microelectronics to the separation of macromolecules such as proteins.

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