BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

If you thought un­tan­gling your phone charger from the mass of leads and ca­bles in your desk drawer was tricky, spare a thought for David Leigh and his team at the Univer­sity of Man­ches­ter, who re­cently had to un­pick a knot that fea­tured eight ‘cross­ings’ de­spite mea­sur­ing just 20 mil­lionths of a mil­lime­tre across.

It was en­tirely their own fault, mind you, be­cause they’d tied the record-break­ing knot in the first place. Leigh and his col­leagues are re­search­ing dif­fer­ent ways of knot­ting to­gether molec­u­lar strands of high-tech poly­mer strands, with a view to cre­at­ing new ma­te­ri­als.

Most of to­day’s strong, syn­thetic ma­te­ri­als, such as Kevlar, are made up of molec­u­lar rods that line up in a par­al­lel struc­ture. It’s hoped that by knot­ting or weav­ing poly­mer strands to­gether, we may be able to cre­ate new ma­te­ri­als that are just as strong and durable, but that are si­mul­ta­ne­ously lighter and more flex­i­ble.

“Ty­ing knots is a sim­i­lar process to weav­ing, so tech­niques de­vel­oped to tie knots in mol­e­cules should also be ap­pli­ca­ble to the weav­ing of molec­u­lar strands,” said Leigh. “Some poly­mers, such as spi­der silk, can be twice as strong as steel, so braid­ing poly­mer strands may lead to new gen­er­a­tions of light, su­per-strong and flex­i­ble ma­te­ri­als for fab­ri­ca­tion and con­struc­tion.”

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