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Scientists reach a breakthrough in the understanding of polymers

It is hard to describe how important polymers are for our everyday life and industry. They are everywhere – we produce our medicine equipment, electronics, clothing and many other things using them. Now scientists from the Monash Warwick Alliance reached a breakthrough in understanding polymers – it will make many of our goods stronger and more effective for their uses.

Polymers are extremely important for us – lots of our goods rely on polymer composition. Image credit: Botasuleimen via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

Polymers are extremely important for us – lots of our goods rely on polymer composition. Image credit: Botasuleimen via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

Polymers essentially are the molecules from which almost everything we use is made. Mastering them would mean everything – even small improvements make huge difference in all fields of industry. Scientists from the Monash University and the University of Warwick came together to improve our understanding of polymers and it looks like they have just reached a breakthrough. Explaining shortly, researchers managed to discover a novel way of translating specific requirements of a product into its essential molecular structure. Interestingly, the process is essentially the same as the one used in making emulsion paint and glue.

Of course, there is nothing simple about this discovery. But imagine that these molecules have DNA. Now scientists can use this known process to put some additional information into genome of polymer. This information is characteristics of the finished product, such as weight, strength, shape and size, which means that polymer can be tailored perfectly to its intended purpose. The process will not require any additional equipment – manufacturers will have to do minor modifications only. There are two main techniques of polymerisation: with sulphur, which uses toxic and noxious bad smelling thiols, or with copper, which uses heavy metal and catalysts.

This new method, emulsion polymerisation, eliminates all problems of other methods. Scientists call this new breakthrough method RAFT. David Haddleton, lead author of the study, said: “Sulfur-free RAFT allows the use of commercial processes to make sequence controlled polymers containing molecular information to be made using large and uncontaminated processes and I expect this to be of great interest to the polymer industry for use in nanomedicine to automotive applications”.

This discovery is very important. It is a good example, how changing point of view is helpful in many situations – scientists looked at the common production method of emulsion paint and household glues and discovered a new use for it.

Source: monash.edu