Scientists develop non-stick gum... and self-wax skis

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The Independent Online

Non-stick chewing gum which cannot glue itself to pavements, seats or shoes – and with the added bonus of being completely bio-degradable – has been invented by a British scientist in what is thought to be a world first.

The gum contains a new kind of rubber-like polymer that lacks the stickiness of conventional chewing gums, which have become a costly environmental problem for local councils because of the millions of discarded cuds which remain glued to pavements and buildings for years.

Professor Terence Cosgrove of Bristol University said that tests have demonstrated that the non-stick gum can be easily removed from public places by natural processes and that it degrades easily in the presence of water.

"We've been making new materials that we can put into chewing gum bases to give them the possibility of easy removal, and in some cases total removal, from surfaces very easily," Professor Cosgrove said yesterday.

Conventional chewing gums contain the same sort of rubberised polymer found in car tyres. Their stickiness is due to the substance having an oil-loving or "hydrophobic" property that repels water and prevents it from degrading or being washed away.

"Our gum has a hydrophilic coating, which means that you always get a film of water around the gum and that's one of the reasons why it's easy to remove and in some cases doesn't stick at all," Professor Cosgrove said.

"In most instances it's easy to remove... and we have the added bonus that it's going to degrade in the environment," he said.

Trials in public places have confirmed that the gum is either easy to remove or does not stick at all to pavements and seats. Tasting tests have also shown that it performs just as well as conventional gum, Professor Cosgrove told the British Association's Science Festival.

"We've had 20 people taste this gum, including one professional chewing gum expert and a series of people who estimate how good the good the gum is from a whole range of seemingly strange but industry-standard specifications, and ours is among the top in a totally blind test," he told the meeting. "We've taken out the sticky bits but you still have the chewing gum experience, but without the stickiness. Over the past couple of years we've spoken to all the major chewing gum manufacturers and I think the chewing gum industry is very keen to solve this problem.

"We've shown that there is no mouth irritation and we hope by Christmas we'll get full food approval and our plans are to launch a product in early 2008.

"Whatever you add to chewing gum has got to cost nothing because the profit margin on chewing gum is tiny. We've taken two commodity polymers on the market and joined them today. It's a very clean process," Professor Cosgrove said.

The professor has taken out a patent on the polymer and formed a spin-off company called Revolymer to exploit that new invention. He is in direct talks with two major chewing gum manufacturers to put the non-stick polymer into their products.

It is estimated that local councils in Britain spend about £150m a year on removing chewing gum cuds from public places. Meanwhile, chewing gum products are one of the fastest growing areas of the confectionery business, growing by 7 per cent over the past three years.

* A separate group of scientists at the Science Festival in York yesterday said that they had invented self-waxing skis that could be used in international competitions and make competitors go 8 per cent faster.

The team of scientist from Sheffield University said that their skis released a lubricant on to the base of the ski as a competitor goes downhill and were race legal.

And while you're at it, how about...

Great news about the gum. We now look forward to the following ten breakthroughs, which while challenging to achieve, will leave us even more in the debt of science and go some way to helping it atone for the atomic bomb and the mobile phone.

* The luminous dog turd.

* The non-slip banana skin, the self-levelling paving stone and the pavement cyclistimmobiliser.

* The non-spillable, non-scalding, lid-easily-priseable cup of coffee that can be ordered in under ten words.

* The non-lurching train with empty seats.

* The bath that doesn't go cold and serves gin and tonic.

* The party wall proof against James Blunt after midnight.

* The silent snore.

* Valuables, especially those on display and cherished by close relatives, that bounce.

* A fit Jonny Wilkinson.

* Something you really like which is also good for you (in addition,of course, to this newspaper).

Charles Nevin