Engineer seeks to develop harder, better, stronger plastics faster

Plastics are everywhere. They’re relatively strong, inexpensive, easy to manufacture and generally resistant to water and other chemicals.

Plastic polymer fibers can exceed high-strength steel in strength-to-weight ratios, and they can get even better, says Jay Oswald, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. That is, if we can get around limitations in the materials development process.

“The rate at which we can make these improvements is limited by the current understanding of the relationships linking the chemistry, processing, structure and physical properties of plastics,” Oswald says.

Current methods take an empirical approach, with progress in discovering improved chemistry and material processes taking 10 to 20 years.

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