Silly Putty - Not Just a Toy


Dave- did you ever get silly putty in your stockings? Wow, that's going back. I did and it came in the same egg packaging you see today. I loved shaping it and bouncing it in the house which drove my mom nuts. Well, this toy from the 1950s is involved in an invention that could have many biomedical applications.

First a quick history lesson on silly putty. In nineteen forty-three there was a shortage of rubber and industrial scientists looking for synthetic rubber substitutes accidentally came up with a mixture of boric acid and silicone oil. It didn't work as rubber but when rolled into a ball, it bounced really well. They gave it to some kids, word got out, and the rest is history.

Fast forward to two thousand twenty-two and add a compound called graphene. Graphene is made up of carbon and is stronger than steel, lightweight, flexible, and conducts electricity. It's also the world's first 2D material and one million times thinner than the diameter of a human hair. Combined with silly putty, it retains the properties of Silly Putty but is now extremely sensitive to pressure. The slightest pressure changes its electrical resistance.

Press a bit over someone's carotid artery and you can measure not only pulse, but blood pressure. This means we can make very sensitive electromechanical sensors to measure all sorts of biological functions. Just how sensitive is it? Enough to detect the footsteps of a tiny spider.

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