Hybrid Polymer

Researchers from Northwestern University have developed polymers with removable parts that can deliver something to the environment, then be chemically regenerated to function again.

"We have created a surprising new polymer with nano-sized compartments that can be removed and chemically regenerated multiple times," said materials scientist Samuel I. Stupp, the senior author of the study, in the press release.

"Some of the nanoscale compartments contain rigid conventional polymers, but others contain the so-called supramolecular polymers, which can respond rapidly to stimuli, be delivered to the environment and then be easily regenerated again in the same locations. The supramolecular soft compartments could be animated to generate polymers with the functions we see in living things," he adds.

Diagram of self-organization of molecules. Image Credit: www.http://phys.org/

It combines two types of known polymers—those formed with strong covalent bonds and those formed with weak non-covalent bonds, known as supramolecular polymers. The integrated polymers have distinct “compartments” which allow scientists to utilize multiple useful features.


Their study, which was recently published in Science, is a major breakthrough in the study of polymers.

"Our discovery could transform the world of polymers and start a third chapter in their history: that of the 'hybrid polymer,'" Stupp said.

He goes on to note the advantage of these methods, asserting, "We can create active or responsive materials not known previously by taking advantage of the compartments with weak non-covalent bonds, which should be highly dynamic like living things. Some forms of these polymers now under development in my laboratory behave like artificial muscles."

This remarkable achievement of making polymers allows scientists to manipulate their chemistry and how their molecules come together.

And while they are still at the very early stages of development and research, further studies could allow for the development of materials that could disassemble and reassemble themselves, mimicking the movement of human muscle contraction and expansion as well as used for creating a smart-patch for drug delivery.

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