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A new approach to scratch resistance

Analysis by MIT researchers could lead to improved coatings using polymer-based nanocomposite materials.

Story content courtesy of MIT

A new way to analyze how coatings of tiny particles alter the properties of transparent plastic could help researchers create lightweight windows with nearly the strength of glass. The same method could also lead to high-strength, scratch-resistant coatings that could be applied to many different materials, according to the MIT researchers who developed the analysis.

Silica particles were used for the coating because they are transparent, so the finished material maintains its transparency. But silica and acrylic are not compatible. In order to overcome this obstacle, the silica was treated with other "functional groups" of molecules, changing its surface chemistry so it disperses evenly on the polymer surface.

The researchers then heated the polymer to soften it slightly, and used an atomic force microscope to observe the particles as they slowly sank into the surface. The resulting data allowed the team to figure out the optimal coating materials and particle densities for strengthening the polymer surface, making possible stronger window substitutes.

The analysis was carried out by Meng Qu, a postdoc in MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, along with Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Krystyn Van Vliet and several researchers at DuPont Nanocomposite Technologies in Delaware. The work was partly funded by the DuPont-MIT Alliance.

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