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IBM Research develops bone-strong, recyclable polymers

Posted: 19 May 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IBM? polymer? computational chemistry? material?

Remarkably, this polymer remains intact when it is exposed to basic water with high pH, but selectively decomposes when exposed to very acidic water with very low pH. This means that under the right conditions, this polymer can be reverted back to its starting materials, which enables it for reuse for other polymers.

The material can also be manufactured to have even higher strength if carbon nanotubes or other reinforcing fillers are mixed into the polymer and are heated to high temperatures. This process enables polymers to have properties similar to metals, which is why these "composite blends" are used for manufacturing in airplane and cars. An advantage to using polymers in this case over metals is that they are more lightweight, which in the transportation industry translates to savings in fuel costs.

At low temperatures, just over room temperature, another type of polymer can be formed into elastic gels that are still stronger than most polymers, but still maintains its flexibility because of solvent that is trapped within the network, stretching like a rubber band.

Probably the most unexpected and remarkable characteristic of these gels is that if they are severed and the pieces are placed back in proximity so they physically touch, the chemical bonds are reformed between the pieces making it a single unit again within seconds. This type of polymer is called a "self healing" polymer because of its ability to do this and is made possible here due to hydrogen-bonding interactions in the hemiaminal polymer network. One could envision using these types of materials as adhesives or mixing in with other polymers to induce self-healing properties in the polymer mixture.

Furthermore, these polymers are reversible constructs which means that can be recycled in neutral water, and that they might find use in applications that require reversible assemblies, such as drug cargo delivery.


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