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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Bourne Research > What's So Special About (Nano) Glue?

Marlene

Abstract:
While glue (or for that matter, adhesives) may not sound like a very interesting topic, you just might be surprised at how diverse it really is, and the role that nanotechnology is playing.

July 14th, 2008

What's So Special About (Nano) Glue?

When I think of glue, my first thought is: grade school. Paste. Watching one of my classmates (who was about, oh, 7 or 8 at the time), eat paste off a pair of those little round-nosed scissors for kids! It's amazing how many different kinds of glues there are. The ones most people will probably recognize are Elmer's glue and Glue Stix (which, as a kid I thought was pretty cool). Then there's super glue. Ok, who HASN'T glued their fingers together (if ever so slightly), with that stuff? Hot glue guns are big amongst those who do crafts; ditto for wood glue for those who build things out of, what else? Wood.

Whether you realize it or not, glue (and its relation adhesive) is everywhere. What do you think makes the layers of cardboard stick together? Or the joints of furniture and wood cabinets stronger? Beyond that, what about Post-it® notes? Or bumper stickers? Tape? How about paper labels? They're on pretty much everything—and sometimes stay that way forever! (Although, I've found the secret to getting hard-to-remove labels off of glass and other surfaces is citrus oil).

No pun intended, but glues and adhesives seem to keep everything stuck together in today's world. Take a few minutes and walk around your house; see how many things you can identify that use some type of glue or adhesive. My bet is that you'll find dozens (if not hundreds) of items; and even more interesting, perhaps an equally diverse number of glues and adhesives themselves.

So, going back to grade school, how many of you have ever made your own glue? It's actually pretty easy to do. Back in the day when I was little, I recall a project in which we made decoupage (or papier-mache) paste out of flour and water. We then soaked torn strips of newspaper in the solution, wrapped them around a blown up balloon, and let it dry. Once the paper was completely dry, we popped the balloon, carefully cut a nice round hole in what is now a hardened shell of newspaper, and voila—a birdhouse! Did you know that's the same type of glue (and process) used to make piñatas?

I'm sure a lot of you are wondering: how is it that you can make glue out of flour and water? And what does this have to do with nanotechnology?

First, the secret is starch—which is basically what flour is. And you have to use a little bit of flour in relation to a larger amount of water; under those circumstances, and with a little bit of cooking, the starch particles swell and burst, resulting in a sticky gel. If it's runny, you've got glue; if it's thick, you've got paste. You can also do this with other starches as well, such as cornstarch.

And the nanotechnology angle? We already know that after the cooking process, as cornstarch cools, a network of nanocrystals are created; that's what thickens food.

But there's another nanotech approach in play: using nanoparticles of starch or sugar (which is what starch converts to during the digestive process) to create next-generation glues and adhesives. The benefit here is that because the starch particles are smaller, you use less water, and the glue (or adhesive) will dry a lot faster.

By the way, did you know that most of today's glues are made out of petroleum? So, with the cost of oil at record levels, and the use of less water, such a "nano-glue" would not only be less expensive, but more environmentally friendly. Plus, starch and sugar are natural materials we eat everyday. Think about that next time your kid decides to eat paste!

Speaking of glue…In this week's radio show we'll talk with a company called Ecosynthetix who is indeed making next-generation glues and adhesives out of nanoscale starch. You'll be amazed at where this is being used. And in our news of the week: milk cartons, super paper, and, of all things, electronic mascara.

You can listen to the entire show on bournereport.com or look for Bourne Report Radio in iTunes, Google and Newsgator.

This article is a transcript of the Bourne Report Podcast #102.

© 2008 Bourne Research LLC. All rights reserved.

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