Hybrid materials

Take a glass pane that is hit by a cricket ball: it doesn't shatter; it bends, absorbs the impact and snaps back to its original shape. If the recent success of chemists at Du Pont in developing a hybrid material called star-gel is any indication, these panes may soon be available (Science, Vol 266, No 5912).

Hybrid materials combine the properties of inorganic matter (like hard ceramics) with those of organic ones (like flexible rubber) to get the best of both. The new material uses silicon -- the element found in sand and used in microchips -- with some hydrocarbons and can take 5 times the stress of ordinary glass without breaking.

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