The right rubber for the job

Researchers from the Department of Geology have discovered that when it comes to rubbers, textured surfaces, and reproduction, more fluid formulations have greater reliability than those that are thick and sticky.

A new study published in the academic journal Scientific Reports, led by Professor Mark Purnell and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, has discovered the best kind of rubber for producing copies of textured surfaces for scientific analysis  - and have found that in general, high viscosity rubber compounds which pour as thick liquids make replicas that are less similar – and less desirable – compared to the original surface, making a fluid formulation the way to go.

In order to find out what kind of rubber would make the best replica, the Leicester team made multiple copies of a rough and a smooth surface using different rubber compounds, which involved mixing the rubber and then pouring it onto a surface until it solidified. They analysed the measurements for exactly the same areas of the surfaces, comparing them with each other and with the original surface.

The types of surface that scientists and engineers make copies of include skin, teeth, superconductor components in particle accelerators, and various tools, including forensic and archaeological investigations. Surfaces are carefully measured to quantify their roughness and texture, but this can be surprisingly tricky.