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By mimicking a brick-and-mortar molecular structure found in seashells, University of Michigan researchers created a composite plastic that's as strong as steel but lighter and transparent.
It's made of layers of clay nanosheets and a water-soluble polymer that shares chemistry with white glue.
Engineering professor Nicholas Kotov almost dubbed it "plastic steel," but the new material isn't quite stretchy enough to earn that name.
Nevertheless, he says its further development could lead to lighter, stronger armor for soldiers or police and their vehicles.
It could also be used in microelectromechanical devices, microfluidics, biomedical sensors and valves and unmanned aircraft.