Putting the metal to polymers for advanced materials
An EU-funded researcher has advanced the science of self-assembling materials by investigating the behaviours of a variety of metallopolymers. The research could potentially feed into applications such as better light-emitting devices, energy storage, data storage, sensors and solar cells - boosting the EU's competitiveness.
© File: #206684993 | Author: vege, 2018 fotolia.com
Polymers are long chains of molecules that form the materials for many types of products such as water bottles, skateboards, gadgets and tyres. Due to the optical and electrical property of metals, their inclusion into polymers makes it possible to create new functional materials metallopolymers with a wide variety of potential applications.
One key aspect of producing useful metallopolymers is self-assembly, a process in which molecules are highly organised into ordered structures through what are know as non-covalent interactions.
This means that bonds between molecules are created through electromagnetic interactions rather than by sharing electrons. The process is widely observed in nature, such as in the construction of a cell membrane or helical DNA.
The EU-funded XMHIM originally focused on the development of a variety of gold metallopolymers. However, this pathway was dropped because of difficulties with the self-assembly process. Instead, an iron-containing crystalline polymer was developed with a positive charge at the end.
The breakthrough on this project came when we developed a new, easy approach to make precisely controlled two-dimensional materials containing iron, says Xiaoming He, the projects lead researcher, who worked from the University of Bristol in the UK.
He is carrying on the work developed during XMHIM, which ended in November 2016, by investigating applications for these types of metallopolymers.
They have the potential to carry nano-particles and biomolecules or therapeutic agents like liquid crystals and adhesives, He says.
When metallopolymers meet self-assembly
He received funding as a research fellow through the EUs Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme. Building on his time at Bristol, He continues to work with metallopolymers and is currently fabricating materials with optoelectronic properties for application in light-emitting devices and solar cells.
When metallopolymers meet self-assembly, thousands of polymer chains can be organised into specific shapes at the micro or nano scale, explains He. The resulting material can have some very interesting properties. Depending on the mix of polymer and metal, they can generate luminescence, and if a metal centre can be produced, metallopolymers can improve the way we transport electricity or energy.
He says he learned a lot during his fellowship even from the failure of attempting to synthesise a variety of gold-containing metallopolymers. The team he works with now has had recent success in developing novel gold materials for metallopolymers which show promising self-assembly behaviour.