Silly Putty Finds Medical Application

Scientists in Ireland have combined Silly Putty with a special kind of carbon to create a highly sensitive pressure detector.

Coleman and his son play with his new invention. / Photo: Trinity College Dublin
Coleman and his son play with his new invention. / Photo: Trinity College Dublin

A recent NPR article discussed a new application for an old toy: Silly Putty. Industrial scientists developed the unique substance over 70 years ago while looking for a synthetic substitute for rubber. "It's got these strange properties but it never really found an application. So we thought, if we could make it do something, that would be cool," says physicist Jonathan Coleman.

Coleman typically works with a form of carbon called graphene, which is extremely good at conducting electricity and comes in sheets barely an atom-thick. He and his team at Trinity College in Dublin realized that when combined, Silly Putty and graphene create a new composite material that is runny and bouncy yet extremely sensitive to pressure. They believe this new substance can have many practical applications in the medical field. For example, by pressing the putty to the carotid artery, one can measure both pulse and blood pressure.

More in Medical device packaging