The cardboard of the future? It weighs a thousandth of a gram and is ten nanometers thick

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The cardboard industry is at a turning point or, in any case, will be revolutionised very soon. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have developed an ultralight and stiffer nanocardboard which can replace the corrugated cardboard that is generally used for consignments.

We are talking about an aluminium oxide film with a thickness of tens of nanometers and which, thanks to channels running through it, is more than 10,000 times as stiff as a solid plate of the same mass. According to the researchers who have developed this material, a single square centimetre of nanocardboard weighs less than a thousandth of a gram and can spring back into shape after being bent in half.

Its stiffness-to-weight ratio makes it ideal for aerospace, where every gram counts, or in the medical field where it has been used as a filter for blood to isolate tumour cells, but has proved also to be an excellent thermal insulator.

Corrugated cardboard is generally the sandwich structure people are most familiar with: a honeycomb structure on the interior and two solid veneers on either side  - a structure that is more difficult to scale down to the nano realm, where the structures are thousands of times thinner. A challenge that has put researchers in the condition of experimenting with and designing microstructures with properties that derive from their shape and not what they're made of.

The impact of this invention on primary and secondary packaging in logistics can hardly be foreseen right now, but surely we must get ready to design new machinery and new handling systems. We have a bright future ahead of us!

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