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5 Ultra-Effective Wonder Materials That Could Change The World

Wonder materials are not unlike Wonder Woman in that they are strong, thin, light enough to be capable of flight and have yet to become as popular as steel (Superman).

Just like Wonder Woman will get her movie soon enough, the promise of wonder materials looms in the distance but has yet to change the world in a significant way.

Here are five wonder materials that have potential to overcome classic materials used today, and revolutionize manufacturing all the while.

Graphene, Queen of Wonder

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Image courtesy of EMSL via Flickr.
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Graphene has been deemed the ultimate in wonder materials, and as an ultra-light super-chargeable layer of carbon, sets the bar high for other elements labeled as such.

First patented in the early 2000s, graphene is thinner than paper and stronger than steel. Its extreme durability and pliability — not to mention its conductibility — make it a versatile material that can be used to create flexible devices, smart clothing, body implants, quantum computers, and impenetrable condoms.

The caveat: Graphene could cause environmental risks if released into lakes or rivers, and is difficult to mass produce

Spider silk, Web of Wonder

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Image courtesy of archangel12 via Flickr.

Ever wonder how tiny spiders catch large prey using just the silk they’ve spun? Scientists have been fascinated with the strength, elongation, and durability of spider webs for many years, but have only been able to produce it more recently through genetic engineering.

It is stronger than steel on a per weight basis, while also being environmentally friendly, as it is essentially a protein formed inside of living cells and comprised of natural elements like carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The high information, low energy material may be used for bullet-proof vests, artificial skin, or airplanes in the future.

Caveat: Difficult to mass-produce, as spiders are cannibalistic and not farm friendly.

Shrilk, Aqua Wonder

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Photo courtesy of Alt1979 via Wikimedia Commons.

As strong as aluminum and only half the weight, the material shrilk is made from discarded shrimp shells and proteins from silk, thus the celebrity-couple-style name.

Developed in 2011, shrilk is thin, clear, tough and flexible, and may be a great substitute for plastic in that it is fully biodegradable and capable of mass production.

Caveat: Cost is a concern, as is the potential implication of shellfish allergies, which has not been officially addressed.

Black phosphorous, Crystal of Wonder

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Photo courtesy of Alshaer666 via Wikimedia Commons.

Black phosphorous may sound like a villain, but this 2D crystal appears to be more of a savior than anything else. The material, which is now being tested for use in nanoelectronics, has a wider bandgap (how electrons behave) than graphene and also disperses light better, which gives it a wide range of electronic capabilities.

Scientists have found a way to mass produce the material using a method that places lumps in a liquid solvent, then bombard it with acoustic waves until it falls apart into nanosheets.

Caveat: Black phosphorus degrades when exposed to water and oxygen.

Metamaterials, Cloaks of Wonder

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Image courtesy of Keith Drake via Wikimedia Commons.

If you’ve always coveted an invisibility cloak a la Harry Potter, you’ll be pleased to hear that scientists have developed materials capable of actually masking light. Metamaterials can also manipulate sound.

One fishnet-type metamaterial is composed of layered silver and dielectric composite films. Created using a nanotransfer printing technique, the material effectively masks the visible light spectrum, bending it around the object so the naked eye can’t perceive it.

Caveat: Metamaterials are two dimensional, and can so far only work from one specific angle.

The takeaway

These are only a sample of various amazing materials that have been developed and dubbed “wonder materials,” all of which hold promises which may or may not lead to revolutionary changes in manufacturing.

One thing is clear: like most new developments, wonder materials will benefit from evolution, and be even more wonderful when put to use in real products. And so, we’ll have to sit tight and wait before they can really save the world.

Other wonder materials include stanene, perovskite, and cadmium arsenide.

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Jennifer Markert