An interdisciplinary team from the department of macromolecular science and engineering at Case Western Reserve University, the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center and the NASA Glenn Research Center earned the December 2007 cover of Nature Nanotechnology, one of the world’s most prestigious scholarly journals covering research in nanoscience and nanotechnology.
Jeffrey R. Capadona, associate investigator at the VA’s Advanced Platform Technology (APT) Center and Christoph Weder and Stuart Rowan, professors of macromolecular science and engineering at the Case School of Engineering and their colleagues have unveiled a method for developing mechanically-reinforced polymer nanocomposites.
The incorporation of nanoparticles into polymers is a design approach that is used in all areas of materials science, says Weder, who is the senior author of the paper, adding that in the past, the broad technological utilization of polymer nanocomposites has been stifled by a lack of effective methods to control nanoparticle dispersion in materials.
In their new approach, the team used a process in which the reinforcing nanoparticles are first assembled into a three-dimensional network through gelation of nanoparticle dispersion, essentially forming a template. This template can then be filled with any polymer of choice by exchanging the solvent with a polymer-containing solution.
“Through the use of this new technique, we have been able to take the most incompatible components and show that they can be used to make compatible materials,” Weder said.
While the research primarily focused on cellulose “whiskers” as the choice of nanoparticles since they offer useful mechanical properties and are readily obtained from renewable biosources such as wood and cotton, Capadona explained, the team also started to investigate an array of different polymers and nanofibers, demonstrating that the technique has broad applicability.