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Recyclable plastics that contain ring-shaped polymers may be a key to developing sustainable synthetic materials. Despite some promising advances, researchers said, a full understanding of how to processes ring polymers into practical materials remains elusive. In a new study, researchers identified a mechanism called "threading" that takes place when a polymer is stretched—a behavior not witnessed before. This new insight may lead to new processing methods for sustainable polymer materials.
Most consumer plastics are blends of linear polymers. The concept of plastics made purely from ring polymers—molecules that form a closed ring—presents an enticing opportunity for sustainability, as shown by the Autonomous Materials Systems group at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. Once a single bond holding ring polymers together breaks, the entire molecule falls apart, leading to disintegration on demand. However, processing such polymers into practical materials remains a challenge, the researchers said.
University - Illinois-led - Study - Polymers - Heat
A 2013 University of Illinois-led study showed that ring polymers could be broken with heat, but this comes at a price—the resulting plastics would likely become unstable and begin to break down prematurely.
In the new study, U. of I. researchers Charles Schroeder and Yuecheng (Peter) Zhou examine the flow dynamics of DNA-based ring and linear polymer solutions to tease out clues about how synthetic polymers interact during processing. Their findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.
Understanding - Polymers - Stretch - Move - Flow
"We lack a fundamental understanding of how ring polymers stretch and move in flow while navigating around other neighbor polymer chains. This work allowed us to probe these questions at a molecular level," said Schroeder, a chemical and biomolecular engineering professor, Beckman Institute researcher and study co-author.
In Schroeder's lab, the researchers stretch and squeeze polymers, causing them to flow and allowing direct observation of the...
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