Polymer compound could protect food, drugs longer and better

February 10th, 2009 - 2:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 10 (IANS) A chance discovery could go a long way in preserving foodstuffs and drugs and protect electronic equipment at a lower cost.

The finding involves a nanotechnology-based technique to block the transport of damaging gases through a polymer, making it stronger while using less material.

“This work takes a step toward developing more flexible, transparent, ultra-high barrier polymers for several different applications,” said Anne Hiltner, co-author of the study and professor of science and engineering at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU).

The discovery was a lucky find, according to Hiltner. The researchers found that when confined as nanolayers, polyethylene oxide (PEO) crystallises as a single layer, resembling very large, impermeable single crystals that reduce by 100 times the amount of gas permeability in all kinds of polymer-based applications.

This spontaneous organisation of a polymer melt into large (in terms of length and width), nearly perfect, so-called single crystals has not been observed before this study, according to Benny Freeman, professor of chemical engineering, University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study.

“The ability to produce literally kilometres of film containing single crystals of polymer is unprecedented,” Freeman said, according to a Case Western release.

The discovery was made in the labs of the National Science Foundation-supported Centre for Layered Polymeric Systems (CLiPS) at the Case School of Engineering.

The findings were published in the February issue of Science.

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