Elastic Plastic

Is it just me, or is it HOT in here?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science. 

Ugh! The A-C’s gone out! Isn’t this place insulated? What? They should have used… PLASTIC?!

Enter Quan Zhang and Yufeng Wang from Nankai University. They’re experts in polymers – the building blocks of plastic.

They experimented with a polymer that expands in the heat and shrinks in the cold. Researchers stuck it to a thin layer of bendable plastic. When the polymer SHRINKS, the plastic bends and rolls UP.  

They added two layers: one to deflect heat and another to retain it. In HOT temperatures, the plastic rolls OUT, exposing the reflective side to REDUCE heat. In the COLD, the rolled-up plastic exposes the other side and ABSORBS heat.

The researchers believe if this plastic proves widely useful, it could be incorporated into buildings! No need for A-C when plastic can keep you cool! This could greatly reduce energy consumption too!

In the meantime, I’ll cool off with a two-liter of cherry cola! Diet. I guess.

*The Loh Down on Science apologizes that this story previously had a word in its title which could be construed as ableist. This title was selected without the writer’s knowledge. LDOS acknowledges the problematic nature of the terminology and strives for inclusivity. We will be paying extra attention to our editing process in the future to ensure that this kind of incident does not happen again.*


Zhang Q, Wang Y, Lv Y, Yu S, Ma R. Bioinspired zero-energy thermal-management device based on visible and infrared thermochromism for all-season energy saving. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2022;119(38):e2207353119. doi:10.1073/pnas.2207353119