Flicking the Switch with Smart Polymer Films

Written by on April 7, 2011 in Materials Research News, Polymers News - No comments
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Researchers at the Technische Universität Darmstadt (TUD) in Germany are investigating the selective control of the properties of underlying substrate materials using ultrathin, “smart” plastic films. For example, paper might be induced to release printing inks when required; chemical reactions might be started and interrupted under catalytic control; and medication systems might be tailored to target only certain parts of the body.

The TUD team is looking at polymer films (sometimes only one molecule thick), covering a wide range of chemical compositions and physical configurations. Some have rigid rod structures, others carry flexible “tails” on rod-like structures which link together to form membranes; yet others behave analogously to balls of yarn or overcooked spaghetti. The researchers are initially trying to understand the basic molecular mechanisms which will allow the films to be configured as fast-acting and efficient electronic microcircuits.

Having understood the basic mechanisms, a wide variety of applications will become feasible, said Dr Markus Biesalski, coordinator of the TUD Soft Control project. He continued: “One practical implementation of such switchable films is the reversible wetting of surfaces – say for printing ink applications. ‘Smart’ plastic films on the materials to be printed will initially optimise adhesion of the ink, but later simplify its removal during recycling by switching to a repulsive action.

“Another application area is the catalytic control of chemical reactions. Light having a certain wavelength might change the polymer structure in a film so as to inhibit the activity of a catalyst located in a substrate beneath it. Light of a different wavelength could restart catalysis, and hence the chemical reaction being promoted. Similar effects might be deployed for switching sensors on and off.

“In the longer term, the polymer films could be used to configure new types of biosensor, for instance for detecting environmental pollutants or diagnosing disease.

Source: http://www.prw.com

 

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