The Purdue University team added bonds that are easily broken to strengthen the adhesive. Image: Jonathan Wilker/Purdue University.
The Purdue University team added bonds that are easily broken to strengthen the adhesive. Image: Jonathan Wilker/Purdue University.

Researchers at Purdue University are proposing to make adhesives for electronics, vehicles, and construction tougher by making them weaker. The researchers describe their rather counter-intuitive approach in a paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

"We have been using inspiration from sea creatures to develop several new adhesives," said Jonathan Wilker, a professor of chemistry and materials engineering at Purdue University, who helps lead the research team. "Recently we have been seeking strategies for making adhesives tougher. One way to get there can be viewed as making the materials tougher by, first, making them weaker."

The Purdue team added bonds that are easily broken throughout the adhesive. When pressure or stress is applied to the glue, these sacrificial bonds are designed to absorb energy and break apart. Meanwhile, the rest of the larger adhesive system remains intact.

"The idea is somewhat similar to how a brick wall is made of bricks that are offset from each other," Wilker explained. "You stagger the bricks and cement so that a crack does not shoot right down through the cement lines. A crack hits the middle of a brick and the forces get spread out toward both sides, eventually decreasing to the point that the wall stays intact.

"We added weak bonds within the adhesive so that mechanical forces and growing cracks lose energy by breaking these bonds instead of having the whole, larger material fracture. The idea is to manage how energy moves through the material. The overall adhesive system can become tougher and less likely to break apart when placed under mechanical stress."

Wilker's team tested this idea with several types of bonds. The ones that worked best were neither too weak nor too strong. He said that this technique for managing energy in adhesives might be a general phenomenon that could be applied to adhesives in industries ranging from consumer electronics to construction to the manufacture of airplanes and automobiles.

The team has hundreds of mussels and oysters growing in its laboratory for studying the proteins used by these sea creatures to attach to rocks. After working to understand the nature of these natural adhesives, the researchers then generate several synthetic versions with different properties.

The researchers have worked to patent several of their toxin-free adhesive systems with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. They are now looking for partners to continue developing their technology.

This story is adapted from material from Purdue University, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.