Polymer science developments this year included advances in polymer synthesis, tailoring of polymer properties, and plastics processing.
Guillermo C. Bazan of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and coworkers devised a three-component catalyst system to prepare branched polymers with structures that cannot be obtained with a single catalyst or catalyst pair [J. Am. Chem. Soc., 124, 15280 (2002)]. The group's study was facilitated by a novel high-throughput screening technology developed by researchers at Symyx Technologies and Dow Chemical who used the technology to rapidly discover hafnium-based complexes that catalyze olefin polymerization [J. Am. Chem. Soc., 125, 4306 (2003)]. The Symyx-Dow team found that some of the complexes performed as well as or better than Dow's workhorse metallocene polyolefin catalyst system.
In a potentially blessed development, H. Yildirim Erbil of Kocaeli University, in Turkey, A. Levent Demirel of Koç University, Istanbul, and coworkers devised a simple, inexpensive method for converting polypropylene into a coating whose surface strongly repels water, much like the leaves of the sacred lotus plant [Science, 299, 1377 (2003)]. In the past, such efforts have generally involved expensive materials and complex, time-consuming processes. The coatings could be useful in microfluidic devices and to protect outdoor surfaces from icing or fouling.
A new high-pressure component-mixing technique developed by Anne M. Mayes and coworkers at MIT makes it possible to mold plastics at room temperature [Nature, 426, 424 (2003)]. It could lead to energy savings in industrial plastics processing and promote plastics recycling.