Washington, Nov 9 : The day won't be far when plastics could be more durable and rubbers could be more elastic, thanks to a novel new approach to polymer synthesis discovered by Texas Tech University organic chemists.
The chemists have developed a process for creating a slip-linked pulley system of molecules that could be used to create tougher and more elastic synthetic materials.
The principal investigator on the project Michael Mayer, an assistant professor of organic chemistry in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, refers to the process as "elegant and simple."
"No one has ever reported making polymers in this way. It is a fundamentally new, stripped-back approach to the synthesis of this class of polymeric materials," said Mayer.
The new findings pave the way for creating 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, Mayer said that when the resulting materials come under stress, the cross-links, which are often times the weakest links, can break resulting in failure of the material.
The researchers 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.
The 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 strained.
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 polymer physicists.
The study is slated for publication in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.