Silly Putty makes for Super-Sensitive Sensors

Silly Putty makes for Super-Sensitive Sensors

by Sophie Bushwick, Popular Science

ADD GRAPHENE TO GET DETECTORS THAT CAN MEASURE BREATHING, BLOOD PRESSURE—AND SPIDER FOOTSTEPS

It’s easy to dismiss Silly Putty as a kid’s toy. But the stretchy material actually exhibits some surprising properties: It’s one of the softest plastics around, and it can behave like both a liquid and a solid, oozing when gently stretched but bouncing off surfaces like a rubber ball when hurled. And when you mix Silly Putty with graphene—strong, conductive carbon sheets with unusual physical properties—it becomes an incredibly sensitive strain detector that can track blood pressure, heart rate, and even a spider’s footsteps.

In Jonathan Coleman’s research group at Trinity College Dublin, the scientist and his team study two-dimensional molecules such as graphene and find applications for these flat nano-materials. In addition, Coleman says, his lab likes to do “kitchen physics,” a tradition where they incorporate household objects into their research to make it more fun and accessible.

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