Last week I attended the Physical Aspects of Polymer Science in Lincoln. This was an interesting conference covering many areas of polymer science. I found out about the wide variety of areas in which polymers are applied. Some examples include:
3D printing with wood: There is a component of wood called lignin, a waste product from the paper industry. Lignin can be combined with more conventional 3D printing materials, such as nylon. The structure of lignin can be aligned or disordered by applying different stresses. The material properties of the final product can be altered by curing the material so a particular lignin structure is preserved.
Vacuum deposited polymer coatings: Crisp packets are made using a low cost, high throughput method by layering different materials. Organic electronics can be made in the same way by evapourating a monomer, spraying it onto a surface and curing it using radiation. This technique could be used to create disposible, wearable medical devices at very low cost.
Photoactive hybrid materials: Lumophores are responsible for a material’s luminesent properties. The organisation of lumophores at a molecular level is very important for the optical properties of a material. The molecular organisation can be manipulated with mechanical and optical tuning. Possible applications of this are visible light communication technologies (the intensity of an LED is modulated to transmit data to a detector) and luminesent solar contractors (sunlight is converted to different frequencies and then concentrated onto solar panels, improving efficiency).
Detergent pods: The shelf life of detergent pods used in washing machines and dishwashers can be effected due to the interactions between the internal detergent and the surrounding polymer film. Developing polymer films that do not react to the detergent, or react very slowly, can improve the performace of these products.