PolymerA method to overcome the inherent trade-off between strength and flexibility in certain types of polymers gets inspiration from the tough, flexible polymeric byssal threads that marine mussels use to secure themselves to surfaces in the rugged intertidal zone.

A wide range of polymer-based materials, from tire rubber and wetsuit neoprene to Lycra clothing and silicone, are elastomers valued for their ability to flex and stretch without breaking and return to their original form.

Making such materials stronger, however, usually means making them more brittle. That’s because, structurally, elastomers are rather shapeless networks of polymer strands—often compared to a bundle of disorganized spaghetti noodles—held together by a few chemical cross-links.

Strengthening a polymer requires increasing the density of cross-links between the strands by creating more links. This causes the elastomer’s strands to resist stretching away from each other, giving the material a more organized structure but also making it stiffer and more prone to failure.


This new extended-release device has less risk of breaking or causing intestinal blockage than previous prototypes.Image: MIT

This new extended-release device has less risk of breaking or causing intestinal blockage than previous prototypes.
Image: MIT

Researchers and engineers in all corners of science have been looking at the ways their specific technical interest area can affect medicine and health care. Whether it be implantable microchip-based devices that could outpace injections and conventional pills or jet-propelled micromotors that can swim through the body to take tissue samples and make small surgical repairs, researchers have been seeing the interdisciplinary nature of science and how it could impact quality of life.

A team of researchers from MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research have teamed up with Massachusetts General Hospital to develop the latest scientific advancement in health care in the form of a polymer gel that will allow for ultra-long drug delivery.

The prototype that the team has built is essentially a ring-shaped device that can be folded into a capsule. Once the patient has ingested the capsule, the device can expand back to its original form and deliver drugs over a number of days, weeks, or potentially months.


Teaching Polymers with Pasta (Video)

A bowl of "anelloni," consisting of ring-shaped pasta made from linguine.Credit: David Michieletto

A bowl of “anelloni,” consisting of ring-shaped pasta made from linguine.
Credit: David Michieletto

If the complexities of polymer physics elude you, the scientists from the University of Warwick may have a way to more clearly explain this premise.

Davide Michieletto and Matthew S. Turner have taken to the kitchen in an effort to more clearly explain polymer complexities. In order to do this, the two physicists have created a new type of pasta called the “anelloni.”

The “annoloni” – which is the Italian word for “ring” – works as a sort of analogy to explain the complicated shapes that ring-shaped polymers can adopt.