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Toothsome Plastic

Heat-resistant plastics are invaluable in applications such as high-tech military airplane engines, where low weight is crucial. But even strengthened with graphite fibers, current versions tend to shatter when hit. A new composite plastic from an unlikely origin could change all that.

Trying to improve the wear resistance of dental fillings, Ohio State materials scientist John Lannutti and dental researcher Robert Seghi forced a plastic through microscopic pores in tiny silica particles. Lannutti found that the process not only produced a wear-resistant filling but also improved resistance to impact. So he combined the silica with a heat-resistant plastic used in airplane engines, creating a material that Lannutti says should fail “gracefully” rather than “catastrophically.” BFGoodrich may use the silica-plastic composite in aircraft engines within a year, and Ford Motor has expressed interest in using the material to create lighter auto engines.