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IBM Research discovers a new class of polymers

June 9th, 2014 / By: / What's New?

According to information released by IBM Research, scientists there have successfully discovered a new class of polymer materials that they say could potentially transform manufacturing and fabrication in the fields of transportation, aerospace and microelectronics.

Through the unique approach of combining high performance computing with synthetic polymer chemistry, these new materials are the first to demonstrate resistance to cracking, strength higher than bone, the ability to reform to their original shape (self-heal) and they are completely recyclable back to their starting material. Also, these materials can be transformed into new polymer structures to further bolster their strength by 50 percent, making them lightweight and still very strong.

Polymers, a long chain of molecules that are connected through chemical bonds, are an indispensable part of everyday life. They are a core material in common items ranging from clothing and drink bottles (polyesters), paints (polyacrylics), plastic milk bottles (polyethylene), secure food packaging (polyolefins, polystyrene) to major parts of cars and planes (epoxies, polyamides and polyimides). They are also essential components in virtually every emerging advanced technology dating back to the industrial revolution: the steam engine, the space ship, the computer and the mobile phone.

However, today’s polymer materials are limited in some ways. In transportation and aerospace, structural components or composites are exposed to many environmental factors (de-icing of planes, exposure to fuels, cleaning products, etc.) and exhibit poor environmental stress crack resistance (for example, catastrophic failure upon exposure to a solvent). Also, these polymers are difficult to recycle because they cannot be remolded or reworked once cured or thermally decomposed by heating to high temperatures. As a result, these end up in the landfill together with toxins such as plasticizers, fillers, and color additives that are not biodegradable.

IBM’s discovery of a new family of materials with a range of tunable and desirable properties provides a new opportunity for exploratory research and applications.

The research has been published in Science with collaborators including UC Berkeley, Eindhoven University of Technology and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST.), Saudi Arabia.

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