SHRILK: The plastic of the future
Shrilk: a material as strong as aluminum that mimics the cuticle of insects.
A new material that mimics the strength, strength and versatility of a substance in nature, the cuticle of insects, was developed by researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.
This very low-cost material called Shrilk, is also biodegradable and biocompatible, could in the future replace plastics in consumer products and be used reliably in medical procedures, according to scientists.
The insect cuticle is up to the challenge of providing protection without adding weight or bulk, as is the case with the cuticle present on the rigid exoskeleton of a fly or grasshopper. This advance in science has shown that it is so light that it does not inhibit flight and very thin, which allows greater flexibility. Its characteristics also include its ability to vary from rigid to elastic.
Layers of chitin, a polysaccharide polymer, and proteins organized in a laminar structure like wood, make up the cuticle of insects, which through mechanical and chemical interactions, make the cuticle a unique material.
Shrilk, named for its composition of the silk fibroin and chitin proteins commonly found in shrimp shells, was created through these complex interactions, resulting in this unique laminar design.
This creation of science is similar in strength and toughness to an aluminum alloy, but only half the weight. it is easy to mold into complex shapes, such as tubes. By controlling the water content in the manufacturing process, the researchers were even able to vary its stiffness, from elastic to rigid.
The attributes of this material have multiple uses, among them it could be an economical and environmentally safe alternative to plastic. Shrilk could be used to make garbage bags, containers, and diapers that degrade quickly. In addition, it could be used to suture heavily loaded wounds, such as hernia repair.
The material “has the potential to be a solution to some of today’s most critical environmental problems and a step towards important medical advancements,” according to the creators.