A new form of self-assembling polymer film that bends and stretches when hit by light is pointing the way to a new family of functional materials. This flexing film is the first material to have been made by coaxing complex molecules to form large-scale, highly ordered three dimensional arrays—a discovery that could change the way that many active material are made, from artificial muscles to solar cells.
Nobuhiko Hosono, Takuzo Aida and colleagues at RIKEN Advanced Science Institute in Wako and The University of Tokyo developed the self-assembly protocol. The researchers found that brush-shaped polymers would form an orderly film when hot-pressed between two sheets of Teflon.
They made their discovery while studying a polymer in which each side chain, or bristle, of the brush structure incorporates light-responsive azobenzenes—two benzene rings separated by a pair of nitrogen atoms. When hit by UV light, the bond between the nitrogens rearranges, contracting the side chain.
The researchers used this photoisomerization behavior to confirm the remarkable long-range order of the polymer structure. Because the side chains were all aligned, when those at the surface were hit by light they curled up in concert, bending the film. A second beam of light at a different wavelength reversed the isomerization process, and the film relaxed back to its original shape.
The trick to making the material is to heat it between two sheets of Teflon that have been drawn tight in one direction, says Hosono. This tension orients the Teflon sheets’ internal structure along a single axis, which acts as a template for the molten polymer brushes sandwiched in between. The side chains of the polymer brush align with the Teflon, pulling each brush upright. As each polymer brush aligns in the same way, it forms a repeating three-dimensional array.
Hosono, Aida and colleagues expect the technique to work for other polymer brushes with similar side chains. To improve the artificial muscle-like behavior of their polymer film, Hosono says the team will try cross-linking the polymer side chains. This will prevent the molecular structure from becoming disordered as the polymer repeatedly curls and relaxes over many cycles, giving the muscle a longer lifetime.
The team is already assessing other potential applications. The wide-area three-dimensional molecular ordering of the polymer brush has great potential for building electronic devices, says Hosono. “We now have designed a new type of polymer brush for development of highly efficient thin-layer organic solar cells.”
The corresponding author for this highlight is based at the Functional Soft Matter Research Group, RIKEN Advanced Science Institute.
 Hosono, N., Kajitani, T., Fukushima, T., Ito, K., Sasaki, S., Takata, M. & Aida T. Large-area three-dimensional molecular ordering of a polymer brush by one-step processing. Science 330, 808-811 (2010).
New material for digital memories of the future
19.10.2017 | Linköping University
Electrode materials from the microwave oven
19.10.2017 | Technical University of Munich (TUM)
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
19.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy