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Breakthrough: New molecule developed for more durable polymers

Source:Adsale Plastics Network 2023-08-28

Materials scientists of Sandia National Laboratories, Erica Redline and her team, have developed a molecule that changes how polymers react to temperature fluctuations, which will make them more durable. Such application can be used in a wide range of things, from plastic phone cases to missiles.


Polymers, which include various forms of plastics, are made up of many bonded, smaller molecules. The bond makes them especially strong and an ideal product to be used to protect delicate components in a wide variety of items. However, with time, use and exposure to different environments, all materials will deteriorate.


One of the most important factors in materials deterioration is thermal change – repeated exposure from hot to cold temperatures and back. Most materials expand when heated and contract when cooled, but each material has its own rate of change. This creates a problem when combining different materials.

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The newly developed molecule can alter expansion and contraction rate, due to thermal differences, of polymers.


The team’s modified molecule can be easily incorporated into a polymer to change its properties – when it is heated, instead of expanding, it contracts by undergoing a change in its shape. When this unique molecule is added to a polymer, it helps the polymer to contract less, hitting expansion and contraction values similar to metal. Thus, slowing tear and wear of an item, making it more durable.


Applications in wide range of areas


The molecule not only solves current issues but welcomes new designs and innovations. 

A highlight to this invention is the molecule can be incorporated into different parts of a polymer at different percentages, such as 3D printing. It is able to print a structure with certain thermal behaviors in one area and other thermal behaviors in another to match the materials in different parts of an item.

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Separatory funnel is used to remove byproduct from the synthesis of the new molecule.

Another advantage of the new molecule is it reduces the weight of materials by eliminating heavy fillers, which can save mass.


Erica also noted that she had been approached by an epoxy formulator who believes this molecule could be incorporated into adhesives.


Future of the new molecule

Although the team has only created such molecule in very small quantities, they are working to scale production so that Sandia can test the molecule to fit mission needs.


The new molecule requires a long synthesis; it usually takes an organic chemist about 10 days to make 7-10g. In polymers, the cheaper the better for wide scale adoption.


The team is currently working to reduce the steps, using funding through Sandia’s technology maturation program, which helps prepare products for the marketplace.


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