You’ve probably noticed that electrical wires are often wrapped in plastic,
or that electricians use gloves and tools with plastic coatings.
That’s because they don’t want to get electrocuted, which is smart.
Plastics prevent fatal zaps by blocking the flow of electrons.
They are good insulators.
And for decades, that’s all scientists thought plastics could be,
until a mistake in a lab forever changed the future of electronics.
It was 1974, and a Japanese chemist named Hideki Shirakawa was testing new ways of making plastics.
When someone in his lab accidentally added 1,000 times more of one thing to the reaction than normal,
结果很奇怪 得到了一个银色的有金属光泽的薄片 它其实是塑料
the result was bizarre: a silvery, shiny foil that was a plastic,
but looked a lot like metal.
Shirakawa showed his strange plastic to a fellow chemist named Alan MacDiarmid,
and then they brought in a physicist, Alan Heeger,
一起找到了一种方法 把这种具有金属外形的塑料改进了一下 使它像金属一样也可以导电
and together, they found a way to tweak the metallic-looking plastic so it conducted like a metal, too.
That had never happened before, and the three won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2000
for discovering conductive plastics.
Today, scientists have invented thousands of conductive plastics to do all sorts of things,
like protecting your electronics from static shocks or building cheaper solar panels.
所有塑料制品 从特百惠到牙刷上的毛 都是用聚合物制成的
All plastic—from Tupperware to the bristles of your toothbrush—is made of polymers,
which are just long chains of repeating chemical segments.
For instance, Shirakawa’s polymer, polyacetylene, is just a chain of carbon atoms.
But what makes polyacetylene special is an alternating pattern of double and single bonds.
Usually bonds hold their electrons in place,
but this pattern lets the double bonds share their electrons.
And this electron-sharing, or conjugation, allows polymer chains move electrons
like a microscopic bucket brigade, passing them along to conduct electricity.
But conjugation on its own isn’t enough to transform an insulator into a conductor.
Polyacetylene, after all, didn’t conduct electricity very well right away.
That’s because it was too packed with electrons.
想象一下 在一个救火列队里 每个人都拿着一个桶
Imagine being in a bucket brigade where everyone is holding a bucket.
You can’t take the bucket from the person beside you, because your hands are already full of the bucket,
and you can’t pass your bucket on because that person also already has a bucket.
But if you just take out a few buckets, problem solved.
And that is exactly what the scientists did to the plastic.
They removed some of its electrons.
分子链中有了一些空隙 电子就可以轻易地被传递 聚乙炔的
With a few gaps in the chain, electrons could easily be passed around, and polyacetylene
became more than 10 million times more conductive.
现在 虽然聚乙炔在导电聚合物的发明过程中起了很重要的作用 但是
Now, polyacetylene is important to the origin story of conductive polymers, but in the last
在过去的四十年里 科学家们开发出了一些新东西 像聚乙撑二氧噻吩
40 years scientists have developed a bunch of other ones, including PEDOT.
它存在于很多东西中 但是它最重要的作用是 防静电
It’s in a bunch of things, but it’s best known for preventing static shocks.
Static electricity might annoy you,
jolting you a little after walking across some carpet to open the door.
But static shocks can be fatal to delicate electronics.
Those tiny packets of current can superheat an unprepared transistor and fry it.
So some companies have started covering flat screen TVs and photographic film with PEDOT.
因为聚乙撑二氧噻吩可以导电 电子可以自由运动 将电荷从已经存在或者潜藏的静电中释放出去
Because PEDOT is conductive, electrons can move easily, dispersing the charge from real
and potential shocks before there’s any damage.
After all, a trickle isn’t as dangerous as a firehose.
And one big perk of PEDOT and other newer conductive plastics is that they can be printed.
Researchers have hacked old inkjet printers to print working transistors and other electronics.
And factories working on a larger scale can go even further,
building things like solar cells on huge, flexible sheets.
Solar cells are usually made from silicon.
But that makes them heavy and expensive.
Plastic is lightweight and cheap to produce.
So, even though polymer solar cells right now are less efficient than the silicon kind,
eventually, scientists think they’ll be able to put solar cells on just about anything,
from your window shades to your backpack.
Conductive plastics are also poised to replace all sorts of other devices.
Scientists are working to invent flexible screens and power sources.
That means you may someday be able to roll up your screen, or even your whole phone!
知道吗 当某天我们看到这样的东西时可能会说 哦 天哪 你能相信
You know, someday we’re gonna look at this thing and be like, “oh my god, can you believe
that outdated, terrible piece of technology?”
So, conductive plastics used to be an oxymoron.
但是一个偶然事件 再加上很多辛苦的工作 永远地改变了它
But an accident—and a lot of hard work—has changed that for good,
and I cannot wait for my bendy smartphone.
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