Like foam earplugs or ordinary rubber, the new carbon nanotube rubber is part of a class of materials known as viscoelastic materials. These are materials that can be twisted, punched, rolled, kicked, stretched and bent -- yet return to their original shape.
Under everyday conditions these materials work just fine; they protect delicate eardrums from loud noises and help keep cars on the road. But if you freeze materials like foam ear plugs or rubber with liquid nitrogen or expose them to high heat, like the Japanese researchers did with their new super rubber, these everyday materials will either shatter on contact or melt away.
The new material doesn't shatter or melt, even under temperatures far, far beyond what rubber could endure.
"Even at 1000 degree Centigrade when aluminum will melt and steel will soften," the new material keeps its shape, said Yury Gogotsi, a scientist at Drexel University who wrote an accompanying Perspective in Science about the research.
The same goes for extremely cold temperatures. "Any rubber or polymer in general will become brittle" under very cold conditions and could break, said Gogotsi, "but the nanotube rubber will keep bouncing."