Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Eliminating entanglements

10.08.2015

A new strategy towards ultra-soft yet dry rubber

Medical implants mimic the softness of human tissue by mixing liquids such oil with long silicone polymers to create a squishy, wet gel. While implants have improved dramatically over the years, there is still a chance of the liquid leaking, which can be painful and sometimes dangerous.


This is an ultra-soft elastomer fabricated by crosslinking bottlebrush polymers contains only crosslinks (red chains) and no entanglements.

(Image courtesy of Li-Heng Cai, Harvard SEAS.)

Now, led by David A. Weitz, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and associate faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, a team of polymer physicists and chemists has developed a way to create an ultra-soft dry silicone rubber. This new rubber features tunable softness to match a variety of biological tissues, opening new opportunities in biomedical research and engineering.

The material is featured on the cover of the journal Advanced Materials.

"Conventional elastomers are intrinsically stiff because of how they are made," said lead author Li-Heng Cai, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS. "The network strands are very long and are entangled, similar to a bunch of Christmas lights, in which the cords are entangled and form knots. These fixed entanglements set up an intrinsic lower limit for the softness of conventional elastomers."

In order to fabricate a soft elastomer, the team needed to eliminate the entanglements from the beginning by developing a new type of polymer that was fatter and less prone to entanglement than linear polymers. The polymers, nicknamed bottlebrushes, are easily synthesized by mixing three types of commercially available linear silicone polymers.

"Typically the fabrication of such bottlebrush molecules requires complex chemical synthesis," said co-first author Thomas E. Kodger, Ph.D.' 2015, now a postdoctoral fellow at University of Amsterdam. "But we found a very simple strategy by carefully designing the chemistry. This system creates soft elastomers as easily as silicone kits sold commercially."

The softness of the elastomers can be precisely controlled by adjusting the amount of cross-linked polymers to mimic everything from soft brain tissue and relatively stiff cells.

"If there are no crosslinks, all the bottlebrush molecules are mobile and the material will flow like a viscous liquid such as honey," said Cai. "Adding crosslinks connects the bottlebrush molecules and solidifies the liquid, increasing the material stiffness."

In addition to controlling the softness, the team also found a way to independently control the liquid-like behavior of the elastomer.

"To make the conventional elastomer softer, one needs to swell it in a liquid," said coauthor Michael Rubinstein, John P. Barker Distinguished Professor in Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "But now we can adjust the length of 'hairy' polymers on the bottlebrush molecules to tune the liquid-like behavior of soft elastomers -- without swelling -- allowing us to make these elastomers exceptionally non-adhesive yet ultra-soft."

These qualities make the material not only ideal for medical devices, such as implants, but also for commercial products such as cosmetics.

"The independent control over both softness and liquid-like behavior of the soft elastomers will also enable us to answer fundamental questions in biomedical research," said Weitz. "For example, stem cell differentiation not only depends on the softness of materials with which they are in contact, but recent findings suggest that it is also affected by how liquid-like the materials are. This discovery will provide entirely new materials to study the cell behavior on soft substrates."

"The exceptional combination of softness and negligible adhesiveness will greatly broaden the application of silicon-based elastomers in both industry and research," said Weitz.

###

In addition to his role on the faculty at SEAS, Weitz is the director of Harvard's Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, co-director of the BASF Advanced Research Initiative, a member of the Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology, and an Associate Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

In addition to Cai, Kodger, Weitz, and Rubinstein, coauthors included Rodrigo E. Guerra, Ph.D.' 2015, now a postdoctoral fellow at New York University; and Adrian F. Pegoraro, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS.

This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (DMR-1310266) and the Harvard Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (DMR-1420570).

Leah Burrows | EurekAlert!

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Nagoya physicists resolve long-standing mystery of structure-less transition
21.08.2017 | Nagoya University

nachricht Scientists from the MSU studied new liquid-crystalline photochrom
21.08.2017 | Lomonosov Moscow State University

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stretchable biofuel cells extract energy from sweat to power wearable devices

22.08.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

New technique to treating mitral valve diseases: First patient data

22.08.2017 | Medical Engineering

IVAM Marketing Prize recognizes convincing technology marketing for the tenth time

22.08.2017 | Awards Funding

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>