Sandpaper, a seemingly simple tool for smoothing out rough surfaces, is much more complex than meets the eye and has increasingly become a high-tech marvel, according to an article scheduled for the July 23 issue of Chemical & Engineering News. Whether honing medical implants or shaping-up jet turbine blades, improved sanding techniques are smoothing the way toward technological progress.
First used by the Chinese as early as the 13th century, sandpaper has evolved from an amalgam of crushed seashells bonded to parchment paper into "a highly sophisticated process," notes C&EN associate editor Linda Wang. The design of modern sandpaper, technically called a 'coasted abrasive,' involves a complex interplay between the chemical properties of the abrasive material, adhesive, and the backing material, notes Wang. In her short feature, one of the ongoing series known as What's That Stuff, she interviews several experts on the topic, including a representative from industry giant and sandpaper pioneer 3M.
Abrasives, or the gritty particles on sandpaper, can range from natural minerals, such as garnet or emery, to synthetic materials, such as fused aluminum oxide or silicon carbide. Choosing an abrasive can be a tricky task, the article notes, as many materials can chemically react with the material being sanded or are too expensive for practical use.
But today, computer programs can take the guesswork out of making sandpaper by modeling how an abrasive will perform, while the electron microscope has been used to optimize the structure of the tiniest abrasives. With the development of stronger materials, scientists have correspondingly developed stronger abrasives and improved bonding agents to allow for more aggressive sanding. From simple woodwork to high-end machining, "there's just no alternative to sandpaper," Wang notes.
Article: "Getting down to the nitty gritty of sandpaper"
Materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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