Bubble wrap is as great a tool for stress relief as it is for protecting things. That’s why the only thing we want to know about the new metallic bubble wrap being developed at North Carolina State University is this; can we pop it?
The bubble wrap was created by a team of researchers at the university led by Dr. Afsaneh Rabiei. It’s made by trapping a foaming agent like calcium carbonate between two thin sheets of aluminum. The press release from the university doesn’t specify how thin, but says the the new material was developed to, “offer protection in areas that are only a few millimeters thick.”
The sheets are sealed together and heated, causing the calcium carbonate to produce gas which creates the bubbles. What results is a bubble wrap that weighs 20 to 30 percent less than the original bulk materials, but has up to a 50 percent increase in its bending strength.
It sounds like it could have a wide range of practical applications. The press release mentions the potential for use in car parts, the edges of airplane wings, helmets, and more. That all sounds great, but the question remains: Can we pop it?
I reached out to Dr. Rabiei about what if feels like to pop the new metal bubble wrap, and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like you can:
The bubbles do not pop like plastic. They do deform gradually. They are of course stronger than the polymer bubble wrap and you can not pop those with your hand. In case of using a loading machine to deform the bubbles, they gradually deform softly.
I guess the answer to the question of how thick the metal sheets are is, “Too thick to pop with my weak little blogger hands.” Oh well. I guess the logical thing to do is build a robot to pop the metal bubble wrap for me. Maybe Dr. Rabiei can market the metal bubble wrap to robots so they can relieve their robot stress.
Since not being able to pop the metal bubble wrap is disappointing, here’s a video of some kittens playing with plastic bubble wrap to lift your spirits:
I’d like to thank Dr. Rabiei for taking the time to answer my admittedly silly question about her work.
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