Sunday, December 28, 2008

Plastics Are Just Straight Crazy

So the University of Wisconsin-Madison has issued a press release about plastics that isn't saying much. It's saying a lot of stuff I already knew--rah rah, plastics are great, plastics are in everything, plastics have some weird properties--but nothing outrageous.

Unlike glass, which is weird for completely different reasons, plastics still maintain the ability to "flow" and rearrange their structure, which makes them so versatile. Unlike regular, crystalline structures, the molecular components of plastic are just kind of jumbled around depending on how the plastic cooled and solidified. This means that they can be rearranged without destroying the plastic completely, and that makes them handy in applications where more rigid materials would be destroyed.

Besides the plastic, there was some other weird stuff in the press release. Did you know that Boeing's new plane, the 787, is going to be 50% polymer (plastic) materials? For comparison, the Boeing 777 is only 10% polymer. There's also a line about how "anyonee who has ever dropped a plastic container from the freezer" knows that low temperatures can make polmers brittle.

I'm clumsy. I've dropped plastic containers, and containers taken from the freezer, and even plastic containers taken from the freezer hundreds of times. I wouldn't say that they were particularly brittle. Am I the only one who didn't notice this?

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The header image is adapted from a photo taken by Bill McChesney and used under a creative commons license.
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