Adding Graphene To Silly Putty Creates A Medical Device : Shots - Health News Graphene comes in sheets barely an atom thick and is extremely good at conducting electricity. By adding the unusual form of carbon to Silly Putty, scientists created flexible sensors.
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Adding A Funny Form Of Carbon To Silly Putty Creates A Heart Monitor

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Adding A Funny Form Of Carbon To Silly Putty Creates A Heart Monitor

Adding A Funny Form Of Carbon To Silly Putty Creates A Heart Monitor

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/504823222/505227878" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Scientists in Ireland have found a new use for a very familiar material.

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UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Silly Putty. Silly Putty is fun for most everyone. Silly Putty is fun for most everyone.

MARTIN: It is fun - Silly Putty. I loved Silly Putty when I was a kid. I remember it came that little plastic egg. Apparently, if you mix silly putty with a special form of carbon, you can make an impressive kind of scientific instrument. NPR's Joe Palca explains how this big idea came about.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Silly Putty has some extraordinary properties. Jonathan Coleman is a physicist at Trinity College Dublin. He says, if you roll Silly Putty into a tight ball and throw it on the ground, it'll bounce.

JONATHAN COLEMAN: But if you pull it very, very slowly, it will flow as if it's a liquid, as if it's a viscous liquid.

PALCA: Industrial scientists first made Silly Putty about 70 years ago, but apart from selling it as a toy, nobody could really figure out what to do with it.

COLEMAN: It's got these strange properties, but it never really found an application. So we thought, you know, if we could make it do something, that'd be pretty cool.

PALCA: Coleman mainly works with another unusual material - a form of carbon called graphene. Graphene comes in sheets barely an atom thick, and it's an extremely good conductor of electricity. One of Coleman's students had the idea of mixing graphene with its electrical properties with Silly Putty and its strange bouncy, runny properties.

COLEMAN: And I thought, well, this might not go anywhere, but at the very least it'll be a good sort of tool to use for outreach - like, for talking to kids and getting them interested in science. So I said, great idea; let's do it.

PALCA: Turns out adding graphene turns Silly Putty into an electrical conductor that's extremely sensitive to pressure. Press on it just the tiniest amount, and you get a big and easy-to-measure change in its electrical resistance. To prove just how sensitive their pressure sensor was, Coleman says they decided to see if they could detect a spider walking across it.

COLEMAN: That turned out to be much easier said than done because spiders don't tend to want to do what you want them to do, so that took a lot of work.

PALCA: Ultimately, they were able to detect the spider's steps. The results appear in the journal Science. Besides detecting spiders, Coleman thinks the new sensor will have more practical uses. He's already shown it can be used to measure blood pressure just by placing it on someone's skin. And that's just the start.

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UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) So many silly things to do.

PALCA: Joe Palca, NPR News.

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UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Silly Putty is fun for most everyone.

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