Making Polymers, Using Visible Light
Synthetic polymers are important in all aspects of modern life and have facilitated major societal advances. The properties of materials made with these polymers are directly controlled by chemical structure. If researchers can control and manipulate their chemical structures, they can improve material properties and expand the range of materials available.
With this CAREER award, Brett P. Fors, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, is developing new synthetic methods for making polymers with control over chemical structures and properties. His team takes advantage of the interesting characteristics of visible light to enable the synthesis of previously inaccessible polymer architectures. The resulting materials could have important applications in adhesives, elastomers, and electronics.
The method developed is a specific cationic polymerization process. The making of the polymer is initiated by the transfer of a charge from a positive ion to the monomer building block. In this case, the monomer is vinyl ether, which once activated, joins with other units. Significantly, this cationic polymerization can be regulated using light, enabling Fors to control the growth of the polymer and allowing for the synthesis of previously inaccessible structures.
Fors and his team are developing similar strategies for the polymerization of another monomer, epoxide, which extends the scope and expands the practicality of the approach. These innovative synthetic methods will enable the synthesis of complex materials with unknown function and potential. The high level of spatial and temporal control will facilitate the methods’ application in fields such as lithography, coatings, and biology.