Research team including Duke scientists receives $ 20 million NSF grant to research polymer arrays


The National Science Foundation recently awarded a five-year, $ 20 million grant to a team of researchers from Duke and several other universities to continue to study the chemical and physical properties of molecules and how they connect in a network. polymer.

The team was formed by the NSF Center for Chemistry of Molecularly Optimized Networks (MONET) and is led by Stephen Craig, distinguished professor of chemistry William T. Miller.

This project brings together principal researchers from Duke, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, University of California-San Diego, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Michigan and University of Washington.

The team’s goal is to “make a material that can be super soft and super elastic (so you can reversibly stretch it 100 times) but also super tough and hard to break”, noted Michael Rubinstein, Aleksandar S. Vesic. professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and a member of the team wrote.

The team aims to develop these unique polymer networks through a three-dimensional approach. The first step involves a theoretical understanding of the principles behind the properties of the polymer network, such as elasticity and toughness. Next, the team must synthesize the new polymer networks designed using these principles, before collecting data to verify their understanding of the basic principles and test their hypothesis.

Earlier this month, the team described their most recent work in an article highlighting the discovery of a hydrogel that can be “tough but soft by having its polymer strands stretch on demand.”

From building flexible pacemakers to ultralight, foldable electronic devices, the potential applications of this hydrogel could be limitless.

Rubinstein shared some of the challenges he foresees when developing a kind of “tunable” chemistry that can control the breaking and forming of chemical bonds as needed. Bonds require energy, and unlike biological materials which have an energy source to convert chemical energy into mechanical energy, polymer networks do not yet.

Through the grant, the MONET team plans not only to develop hydrogel technology, but also to increase public appreciation for scientific research and possibly inspire the next generation of young scientists.

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