Lab Mistake Results in Momentous Find
New synthetic polymers are strong, light, and recyclable
By Arden Dier, Newser Staff
Posted May 16, 2014 2:21 PM CDT
Updated May 18, 2014 2:20 PM CDT
File image of plastic polymer granules.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – It's a happy accident: A mistake at an IBM research lab has created "a super-strong, super-light, and super-recyclable new material," that could transform the old-school world of plastics and polymers and improve a slew of products, NBC News reports. Most of our polymers date back decades—think Styrofoam from the 1940s or nylon from the '30s. But when researcher Jeannette Garcia forgot an ingredient in a polymerization reaction, she ended up making two new polymers—the first discovered in 20 years—including one so strong "I couldn't even get it out of the flask," she says. "I had to break the glass with a hammer."

That polymer, nicknamed "Titan," has about one-third the strength of steel and could show up in future computers, reports Mashable. The second, called "Hydro," is a gel-like material that essentially heals itself when cut in two—which could work wonders as a "powerful-on-contact adhesive," it adds. Both reduce down to molecules easily, which is big news because, "We can begin as scientists to design molecules that are incredibly tough, incredibly durable, but still recyclable," a chemistry professor explains. That could mean a more eco-friendly shopping bag or water bottle, or even a tougher material for military drones. (Click for another wild discovery.)