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A hard new material with a soft touch

From Boston, at the fall meeting of the Materials Research Society.

Researchers are always searching for tougher polymers. Yet creating new materials can cost a bundle. A cheaper method is to mix a hard substance, or filler, into a known polymer, says Valerie V. Sheares of Iowa State University in Ames.

Now, Sheares has found that polymers spiced with unusual substances called quasicrystals are just as hard and wear just as well as those mixed with some of the best ceramic fillers. She also discovered that the materials made with quasicrystals are much less abrasive than polymers with other fillers.

Gears, bearings, or other machine parts coated with this material would produce little wear on other parts they touch, says Sheares. Her group is developing small parts and coatings for devices that need hard, scratch-resistant surfaces.

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