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Sorbothane was invented and patented in 1982 by Dr. Maurice Hiles, a British inventor. It was prepared by mixing polyol and isocyanate. His research into the energy dissipation properties of human soft tissue disclosed a structure very similar to an interpenetrating polymer network. This led to his synthesis of the first commercial simultaneous interpenetrating network, now called Sorbothane. Dr. Hiles wrote in his patent "The resulting solid polymer behaves like a quasi-liquid, being readily deformed by an applied force and slow to recover, although in the absence of such a force it takes up a defined shape and volume". In 1976, he contacted the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) about his invention; the NRDC spent almost £10,000 in helping him to improve and patent the polymer. BTR Industries obtained the license from NRDC for selling them.
The material combines some of the properties of rubber, silicone, and other elastic polymers. It is considered to be a good vibration damping material, an acoustic insulator, and highly durable. An unusually high amount of the energy from an object dropped onto Sorbothane is absorbed. The feel and damping qualities of Sorbothane have been likened to those of meat.
Sorbothane is a visco-elastic material, meaning that it exhibits properties of both liquids (viscous solutions) and solids (elastic materials), with a relaxation time of two seconds. Because visco-elastic behavior is desirable in shock and vibration applications, many materials claim to be viscoelastic; however, many of these materials have only trace viscoelastic properties.
Similar materials include polynorbornene, Noene, and Astro-sorb.
Sorbothane has many industrial applications, from acoustic shielding to machine mounts. It has been used to quiet personal computers by being packed around the hard drive and other noisy spinning components. Sorbothane dampens vibration transmission from vibrating hardware. It has been used to isolate subwoofers from turntables. In addition, Sorbothane has been used by NASA to isolate vibration, in the Air Force Memorial, and to transport the Liberty Bell. It is currently used with insoles and heel pads to absorb impacts during sports activities such as football, cricket, and rugby, and it is an effective product to help alleviate the symptoms of plantar fasciitis and provide protection against lower limb injuries caused by repetitive motion during games. Because of its unique ability to dramatically diminish shock waves and maintain its shape under stress, Sorbothane has shown promise in the treatment of Lateral epicondylitis, also known as Tennis elbow and Medial epicondylitis or Golfer's elbow. It is also used in recoil pads of guns.
- New Scientist. Reed Business Information. 6 December 1979. pp. 778–. ISSN 0262-4079. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
- "A biomechanical evaluation of sorbothane.". Pubmed. Retrieved June 28, 2012.
- James Russell (1 January 1998). Precision Shooting: The Trapshooter's Bible : for the Advanced Trapshooter & Those who Strive to be ... James Russell Publishing. pp. 107–. ISBN 978-0-916367-10-7. Retrieved 28 June 2012.