Metals conduct electricity because their atoms and molecules are arranged in tight, repeating patterns that allow electrons to flow through them with ease.

Now materials engineers at the University of Chicago have found an exception to the rule.

The team was experimenting with strings made of carbon and sulfur atoms with some nickel tossed in.

The scientists were surprised to discover that the material conducts electricity as efficiently as some conventional metal conductors.

The group heated the material, froze it, exposed it to moisture, even poured acid on it, but it kept transmitting electric current just as efficiently.

Metallic conductors often lose their efficiency or stop working under high heat or when exposed to moisture.

In comments quoted by Science News, team member John Anderson referred to it as “conductive Play-Doh – you can smush it into place and it conducts electricity.”

There is no clear explanation for the material’s strange talent, but the developers think the material forms sheets in layers that enable electrons to move vertically as well as horizontally, finding pathways through the material’s disordered structure.

Because the putty-like material carries electric current under conditions that crash other conductors, the team thinks it could replace metal wires and cables in harsh conditions—or perhaps get power to places where that isn’t possible now.

TRENDPOST: To make electrical wire, metal has to be mined, smelted, and formed using high heat. In contrast, the putty material can be made at room temperature using a fraction of the mined materials that metal wires are made from.

That could make the new material cheaper as well as more versatile than metal wire, creating a new industry around a new class of electrical materials.

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