Squid Supply the Blueprint for Printable Thermoplastics

Squid, what is it good for? You can eat it and you can make ink or dye from it, and now a Penn State team of researchers is using it to make a thermoplastic that can be used in 3-D printing.

"Most of the companies looking into this type of material have focused on synthetic plastics," said Melik C. Demirel, professor ofengineering science and mechanics. "Synthetic plastics are not rapidly deployable for field applications, and more importantly, they are not eco-friendly."

Demirel and his team looked at the protein complex that exists in the squid ring teeth (SRT). The naturally made material is a thermoplastic, but obtaining it requires a large amount of effort and many squid.

"We have the genetic sequence for six squid collected around the world, but we started with the European common squid," said Demirel, who with his team collected the cephalopods.

The researchers looked at the genetic sequence for the protein complex molecule and tried synthesizing a variety of proteins from the complex. Some were not thermoplastics, but others show stable thermal response, for example, the smallest known molecular weight SRT protein was a thermoplastic. The results of their work were published in the current issue of Advanced Functional Materials and illustrates the cover.

Most plastics are currently manufactured from fossil fuel sources like crude oil. Some high-end plastics are made from synthetic oils. Thermoplastics are polymer materials that can melt, be formed and then solidify as the same material without degrading materials properties.

This particular thermoplastic can be fabricated either as a thermoplastic, heated and extruded or molded, or the plastic can be dissolved in a simple solvent like acetic acid and used in film casting. The material can also be used in 3D printing machines as the source material to create complicated geometric structures.

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