Public Release: 

Revolutionary discovery leads to invention of new 'building blocks'

University of Akron polymer researchers create a new class of hybrid materials

University of Akron

Polymer science will have to add a new giant molecule to its lexicon thanks to a cutting-edge discovery at The University of Akron. Taking a revolutionary "building blocks" approach, researchers have pioneered a way to create a new class of very large polymer molecules, called macromolecules, which assemble themselves into strong, stable structures. The work has been done in collaboration with researchers at Peking University in China and The University of Tokyo in Japan. Their findings have been published in the April 24, 2015 issue of Science magazine.

A team led by Stephen Z.D. Cheng, Ph.D., professor at The University of Akron's college of polymer science and polymer engineering, designed and synthesized the new polymer molecules called tetrahedrons, a solid with four equal triangular faces. Through a reaction called "click chemistry," these tetrahedron building blocks can then be precisely manipulated to unite with other tetrahedrons.

"It had never been done before in soft matter, where it's engineering could be particularly useful," explains Cheng, "and it took 3 years to design."

"This research quite possibly marks the first time we have documented this experimental transformation from nano-sized giant tetrahedral to supramolecular lattices," said Joe Akkara, a materials science program director from the National Science Foundation, which funded the research. "This class of new hybrid materials could be custom designed for many functional materials including applications in nano-technologies "

The team's work opens the door to developing new materials for applications not yet imagined, such as electric, magnetic and optic functions. Over the next couple of years, they will work with a variety of industries to identify practical uses for this scientific breakthrough.

Cheng and his experts have received a $700,000, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to continue pursuing this new pathway for designing and constructing the novel macromolecule.

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