Written by Cory Chandler
The new approach to polymer syntheses has the potential to produce rubber that is
stronger and more durable than ever before.
In the not-so-distant future, plastics could be more durable and rubbers could be
more … well … rubbery thanks to a novel new approach to polymer synthesis discovered
by Texas Tech University organic chemists.
In research slated for publication in the Journal of the American Chemical Society
, the scientists demonstrated what principal investigator Michael Mayer refers to
as an “elegant and simple” process for ultimately creating a slip-linked pulley system
of molecules that could be used to create tougher and more elastic synthetic materials.
“No one has ever reported making polymers in this way,” said Mayer, an assistant
professor of organic chemistry in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
. “It is a fundamentally new, stripped-back approach to the synthesis of this class
of polymeric materials.”
Mayer’s findings provide a new way to form unusually complex polymers-compounds such
as rubber formed from clusters of atoms that are chemically chained together.
Current methods for creating polymer networks rely on chemical reactions to cross-link
the large molecules. However, when the resulting materials come under stress, Mayer
said, the cross-links, which are often times the weakest links, can break resulting
in failure of the material.
Mayer and his team, led by senior graduate student Songsu Kang, tried a different
approach, beginning with molecules in the form of two interlocked rings – much like
the rings used by magicians in the so-called “magic ring” trick.
Their resulting materials have rings that can literally slide along the polymer chains,
providing anchor points for cross-linking that can move when the materials are mechanically
Mayer said this proof-of-concept research could someday be used to create pliable
networks of polymers, and said his design fits with the theoretical models used by
“Their theoretical models show polymers as cross-inked by such rings,” he said. “Now
we actually have a well-defined method to prepare materials that fit these descriptions.”
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