A story that PetSugar would appreciate – but seems to come from a Sci-Fi movie – discusses how a Sea Cucumber has inspired a super-plastic which turns from hard, to soft and is pliable when exposed to water. Say what?! Let's start at the beginning, shall we?
You may (or may not) know that the little sea cucumber can shift anywhere between a soft leathery body, to a hard rock-like shell when threatened by predators. How? Well, it's all thanks to highly rigid collagen nano-fibers that are embedded in their connective tissue that they can "switch on or off" whenever they want. To find out how we got from sea life to plastic,
This switcharoo has inspired Christoph Weder as well as scientists at the Case Western Reserve University and researchers at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center to mimic the nano-composite structure of the sea cucumber and produce a super plastic like we have never seen:
"We can engineer these new polymers to change their mechanical properties - in particular stiffness and strength - in a programmed fashion when exposed to a specific chemical."
Their hope is that this plastic, which is "activated" by water, will have major medical use like building "artificial nervous systems" in Parkinson's patients, as well as being involved with stroke and spinal cord injuries.