``Eureka'' events don't happen often in rubber science. Knowledge is built on knowledge, which can be a tedious, time-consuming process.
Every now and then, though, some headline-grabbing discovery occurs. No. 1 on the list of ``eurekas'' was Charles Goodyear's discovery of vulcanization when he accidentally dropped a bit of rubber and sulfur on a hot stove. He said something like ``Man, that smells like...hey, what's this?''
In that vein, biochemist Chris Elvin reports he ran around a lab shouting ``Here, feel this,'' when he created a rubbery synthetic resin. I wonder how many people hesitated, this occurring at a research center in Australia, a land where everyone enjoys a good laugh.
What Elvin had invented is synthetic resilin. Resilin is the protein found in various insects that give fleas their ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound-by their scale-and is the connector that allows insects to flex their wings incessantly without damaging the wing and body.
Read all about this super-rubber in the latest issue of ``Nature.'' Elvin and his team of researchers are hoping to develop the material so it eventually can be used in medical and other applications.
Seeking new sources of rubber is the stuff of legend in this business. Anything that bounces or stretches has been tapped, so to speak, from dandelions-a favorite of Thomas Edison-to figs.
We've run many stories about getting rubber from the guayule shrub, and the various efforts to grow natural rubber trees in colder climates. Lots of other attempts have been made to generate this vital resource from other oddities. Most don't make it commercially, but how will anyone know unless you try?
Resilin sounds like it has promise. But why take the time and effort to create a synthetic resilin industry, when there's so much natural material around? Insects are omnipresent and generally considered a nuisance, unless you're something like a frog or a bird. Use the available crop, I say.
There are many dogs, for example, that are walking flea factories. A friend of mine has a 150-pound, gentle-natured beast named Simba-looks like a lion, too-that could host a million resilin-bearing fleas. Now there's a cash crop on the hoof...I mean, paw.
Think about it: ``Get along little doggie'' could take on new meaning as herds of factory dogs are led down the Santa Fe trail to the resilin processing plant. Ridin' the trail, sleeping under the stars, coating yourself with flea-powder-now that's the ``romance of rubber,'' if ever I heard of it.
Noga is editor of Rubber & Plastics News. His e-mail address is [email protected]