Chemists at the University of Warwick have collaborated to do something that nature does as a matter of routine but that man can only accomplish with great effort - make polymers to order.
DNA is a polymer, as is a spiders web. Nature it seems can make its widely diverse polymers with little apparent effort, but for humanity the process of devising new polymers has till now been something of a lottery. Chemists could make new polymers but the randomness of the construction process forces researchers to find applications for those new polymers after they had been devised.
With very pure materials and temperatures around minus 80 degrees one can get around this problem - but industrial chemical plants cannot afford the costs to produce these extreme conditions. Now organic and supramolecular chemists at the Department of Chemistry of the University of Warwick have collaborated to devise methods that can create advanced designer polymers to order in normal industrial conditions.
Warwick Chemistry Department researcher Dr David Haddleton has discovered, and patented, a process which attaches one of a particular family of ligands (small molecules that bind to a particular metal atom) known as "Schiff Base ligands" to a form of copper. This material can be used as an extremely effective catalyst which is both soluble in water and is able to maintain an equilibrium between the two forms of copper generated and required by this form of polymer manufacture.
Dr Haddleton is now collaborating with two supramolecular chemists at Warwick, Dr Andrew Marsh and Dr Michael Hannon to create to order extremely advanced polymers. Dr Marsh and Dr Hannon have been experimenting with chemical "templates" that mimic the action of how nature creates its own polymers to order. The extreme conditions that were once required for to construct polymers to order (minus 80 degrees temperature, violent snapping of molecular bonds creating highly charged particles etc.) made the use of these templates impossible.
Dr Haddleton's work has now produced a form of controlled polymerisation that can be carried out in a much less harsh environment allowing the use of templates and even the use of combinations of metal based catalysts in patterns that will allow them to mechanically "weave" a polymer.
Together the three researchers believe their processes can be used to produce tailored polymers for everything from contact lenses to polymers for drug release, allowing time specific release into the human body. Companies currently examining their work include Courtaulds, Reichold and Zeneca. The three chemists intend to build on their research by setting up a "Centre for Supramolecular and Macromolecular Chemistry" within the University of Warwick's Department of Chemistry.
For further information please contact:
Dr Andrew Marsh, Department of Chemistry
University of Warwick
Tel: +44 (0)1203 523523, Fax: +44 (0)1203 524112