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Energy squeeze
Date:3/2/2012

A polymer is a mesh of chains, which slowly break over time due to the pressure from ordinary wear and tear. When a polymer is squeezed, the pressure breaks chemical bonds and produces free radicals: ions with unpaired electrons, full of untapped energy. These molecules are responsible for aging, DNA damage and cancer in the human body.

In a new study, Northwestern University scientists turned to squeezed polymers and free radicals in a search for new energy sources. They found incredible promise but also some real problems. Their report is published by the journal Angewandte Chemie.

The researchers demonstrated that radicals from compressed polymers generate significant amounts of energy that can be used to power chemical reactions in water. This energy has typically been unused but now can be harnessed when polymers are under stress in ordinary circumstances -- as in shoe soles, car tires or when compacting plastic bags.

They also discovered during the study that a silicone polymer commonly used in implants for cosmetic procedures releases a large quantity of harmful free radicals when the polymer is under only a moderate amount of pressure. These findings suggest the safety of certain polymer-based medical implants should be looked at more closely.

"We have established that polymers under stress create free radicals with overall efficiencies of up to 30 percent and shoot the radicals out into the surrounding medium where they can drive chemical reactions," said Bartosz A. Grzybowski, an author of the paper and the Kenneth Burgess Professor of Physical Chemistry and Chemical Systems Engineering. "These radicals can be useful or they can be harmful, depending on the situation."

Grzybowski and his team are the first to use this energy to drive chemical reactions by simply surrounding the compressed polymer with water containing desired reagents.

The radicals created in the polymer migrate toward the
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Contact: Megan Fellman
fellman@northwestern.edu
847-491-3115
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert

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