In Marvel’s recent blockbuster Black Panther, the material behind the hero’s super powers is a substance called Vibranium. In the movie, this meteorite material has the ability to store vast amounts of energy and absorb powerful forces as body armor. In reality, we have yet to discover a material as out-of-this-world as Vibranium. But materials science and engineering researchers are regularly uncovering exciting new properties of so-called “wonder materials” that will change the way we produce and store energy, contain and remediate pollution, and even how we treat diseases.
Yury Gogotsi, PhD, Distinguished University and Bach Professor in the College of Engineering, is one of the materials scientists at the forefront of this research. In a recent Gizmodo post, Gogotsi helped answer some questions about the possibility of finding or producing a material with Vibranium’s properties.
“We can say that with a high probability no natural material can have those properties. As we know that all the same elements exist in the universe as on our planet earth, no mineral of pure metal is expected to have properties of Vibranium. Some of the properties of Vibranium can be achieved, though not at the same scale, by design of material structure and architecture using advanced nanomaterials. Piezoelectric materials transform mechanical pressure and vibrations into voltage. Charge produced by piezoelectric materials can be stored and used. Kids running around in sneakers that lighten up with every step demonstrate this principle. Light advanced ceramic materials, such as boron carbide and silicon carbide, are used as armor in bullet-proof vests. They protect due to their extreme hardness—they are harder than any metal.
Material architectures capable of absorbing blast energy are being developed and can, potentially, protect a person jumping from a high altitude (but, again, this will be a 20-feet rather than a 20-story jump).”
Some of the nanomaterials Gogotsi refers to are being produced and studied in Drexel’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, including a special materials called MXene. While you probably won’t see a Marvel hero wearing it anytime soon, researchers have discovered that MXene materials have some pretty impressive super powers of their own.
By combining polymers within the atomically thin sheets of a material called, MXene, researchers created a material that is flexible enough to be folded without breaking and strong enough to support many times its own weight.
Superior sense of smell
By picking up the slightest whiff of indicator chemicals, such as acetone or ammonia, MXene’s smell-sensing abilities could help diagnose health problems, from ulcers to diabetes, even sooner than sensors currently used in medical diagnostics.
Electromagnetic radiation from mobile devices is everywhere and it can cause troublesome interference with other technology. But a thin coating of MXene can ward off external radiation while also containing the electromagnetic emissions from its own device.
Agile energy storage
In any shape or size, MXene clay exhibits energy storage capabilities better than the lithium-ion batteries currently used in laptops and cell phones. It can also be produced via a less complicated and costly process.
A porous nanomaterial composed of boron nitride nanosheets can absorb up to 33 times its weight in oils and organic solvents, which could make it a real hero when it comes to cleaning up disastrous oil spills.
The design of the chemical structure of MXene allows it to quickly store and disburse energy, which makes it an excellent candidate for batteries and a storage solution for renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.
The porous layers of MXene make it the perfect sieve for trapping molecules in the process of purifying hydrogen fuel.
For more information about Drexel’s materials science and engineering research visit: http://drexel.edu/materials
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