Research team including Duke scientists receives $20 million NSF grant to research polymer networks



The National Science Foundation recently awarded a five-year, $20 million grant to a team of researchers from Duke and several other universities to continue studying the chemical and physical properties of molecules and the way they connect in a polymer network. 

The team was formed through the NSF Center for Chemistry of Molecularly Optimized Networks (MONET) and is led by Stephen Craig, William T. Miller distinguished professor of chemistry. 

This project brings together senior principal investigators from Duke, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, University of California-San Diego, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Michigan and University of Washington.

The team’s goal is to “make a material that can be super-soft and super-elastic (so that you can reversibly stretch it 100-fold) but also super-tough and hard to break,” Michael Rubinstein, Aleksandar S. Vesic distinguished professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and a member of the team wrote.

The team aims to develop these unique polymer networks through a three-dimensional approach. The first step involves a theoretical understanding of the principles behind polymer network properties, such as elasticity and toughness. Next, the team must synthesize the novel polymer networks designed using these principles, before collecting data to verify their understanding of basic principles and to test their hypothesis. 

Earlier this month, the team described their most recent work in a paper highlighting the discovery of a hydrogel which can be “tough yet soft by having their polymer strands extendable on demand.”

From building flexible heart pacemakers to ultra-light, foldable electronic devices, the potential applications of this hydrogel could be limitless.

Rubinstein shared some of the challenges he foresees during the development of a sort of “tunable” chemistry which can control the breaking and forming of chemical bonds as needed. Bonds require energy, and unlike biological materials which possess an energy source to convert chemical into mechanical energy, the polymeric networks do not yet have that. 

As a result of the grant, the MONET team not only anticipates being able to develop the hydrogel technology but also increasing public appreciation of scientific research, and perhaps inspiring the next generation of young scientists.


Share and discuss “Research team including Duke scientists receives $20 million NSF grant to research polymer networks” on social media.