AKRON—Lego my … aerogel?
As it turns out, the structure of the beloved little plastic bricks is good for more than making scale replicas and causing barefoot parents to swear in the dark.
Researchers at the University of Akron have studied the design of Legos and come up with a way to make strong aerogel structures.
"We were inspired by the simplicity of Legos and used them as templates to develop load bearing aerogel structures that are stronger and more durable," reports Dr. Sadhan Jana, associate dean of research in UA's College of Engineering and Polymer Science.
You might be asking yourself: "What the heck is an aerogel?"
According to UA, "Aerogels are created by combining a polymer with a solvent to form a gel, and then removing the liquid from the gel and replacing it with air."
What's left, according to UA, is a porous structure with very low density. But until now, those structures have been fairly weak, though aerogels are still used in things like thermal insulation for spacecraft and oceanic pipelines and sound barriers.
UA researchers found a way to engineer them better by emulating Legos.
"The Lego-like aerogel bricks are made from polymer struts with the interior space filled with aerogels. The aerogel inclusions provide desired thermal insulation, and the modular nature and strength are the main benefits of the bricks," UA said in a release announcing the breakthrough.
This apparently makes for a stronger structure—a lot stronger.
"If an 8,000-pound elephant was standing on a 12"x16"x16" aerogel brick structure, it would not break," Jana said in the university's announcement.
This may make aerogels useful in far more applications, the school says, and UA reports work already is underway for aerogel brick designs for better air filters and packing materials for cryogenic thermal insulation.
And, because the bricks can be put together similarly to Legos, they more easily can be used to make bigger things.
"Now," Jana says, "we can use our imagination to scale up depending on how big the application is, just by putting the Lego-bricks together."
There's no word on a kit to make the Millennium Falcon or Death Star out of aerogel bricks yet, but we've got our fingers crossed.
PolyLux wins NSF Grant
Speaking of polymers—as we often do—an Akron startup born out of the university just announced it has received a grant from the National Science Foundation.
PolyLux, founded by Kaushik Mishra, a Ph.D. polymer science student at Akron, and associate professor Dr. Abraham Joy, makes special adhesives that are sensitive to light. More specifically, they release under certain frequencies of light. When those adhesives are used on bandages, they can be removed without the stickiness, pain and damage sometimes caused by traditional bandages.
The NSF wants to see PolyLux bring this technology to market with its product, called AuraPeel, and has awarded the company a $256,000 grant to further its development, the company reported Wednesday, Aug. 11.
"About seven percent of patients in health care settings and hospital systems have skin tears that are known as medically adhesive related skin injuries (MARSI)," Mishra said in announcing the grant. "With the use of AuraPeel, wound care teams will be able to remove and reapply dressings better, heal wounds faster and help patients avoid pain and suffering they might otherwise experience with MARSI."
The Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE) has been a supporter of PolyLux in the past and applauded the new funding.
"The Innovation Fund was pleased to give PolyLux an initial award because they appeared to have found an unmet need in the medical dressing market," said Dennis Cocco, co-director of GLIDE, in a statement. "With this money they were able to test the market and build their product offering. We look forward to helping them gain market traction and creating a new enterprise in Northeast Ohio."
PolyLux has previously worked with the NSF I-Corps program to prove the product-market fit and is working to achieve regulatory approval for AuraPeel, the company reports.