Tomorrow's specialty plastics may be produced more precisely and cheaply thanks to the apparently tight merger of a theory by a University of Oregon chemist and years of unexplained data from real world experiments involving polymers in Europe.
The work, which researchers believe may lead to a new class of materials, is described in a paper appearing in the Dec. 18 issue of the Journal of Physical Chemistry B (online Dec. 11). The findings eventually could prove useful in the fields of engineering, nanotechnology, renewable energy and, potentially, medicine, because proteins, DNA, RNA and other large molecules within cells may well move in the same way as those in plastics.
Traditional theory behind the processing of plastic materials since the 1960s has focused on the movement of individual macromolecules as they move by one another. Materials researchers, under this approach, end up with poorly understood products and unexplained data. The new theory of cooperative motion in liquids of polymers successfully explains these observations by considering the coordinated motion of macromolecules with their surrounding neighbors. The end result could remove guesswork and the costly, time-consuming testing of thousands of samples at various stages of production.
"The level of agreement between the data and the theory is remarkable," said Marina G. Guenza, a professor of theoretical physical chemistry at the UO. "We are making the connection between the chemistry of molecules and how they behave. It is really fundamental science. Our findings are exciting for experimentalists because we can see phenomena that they cannot understand. This theory is now explaining what is happening inside their samples. They are no longer dealing with just a set of data; our theory provides a picture of what is happening."
Guenza simplifies her mathematics-heavy theory -- built on Langevin equations that describe the movement of particles in
|Contact: Jim Barlow|
University of Oregon