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Polymer chemistry is a branch of chemistry that focuses on making large molecules (POLYmers) made of repeating smaller units (MONOmers). Common polymers you’ve probably heard of are polystyrene (styrofoam), DNA, and proteins. Polymers are formed when small molecule monomers undergo a chemical reaction that links the monomers to form polymers.
We study bottlebrush polymer networks. Bottlebrush polymers are those with a backbone and so many side chains that they have to lie reasonably straight instead of clumping up (picture their namesake, a bottlebrush!). To form networks of these polymers, we add a crosslinker that connects some side chains to those on other bottlebrush polymers forming a 3-dimensional network. Bottlebrush polymer networks are inherently soft, flexible, tough, and through our chemistry we hope to make them self-healing. Our research works with modifying some side chains of the polymer, modifying and stabilizing the chemical crosslinker, and other variables to try and incorporate carbon nanotubes (CNTs) into these networks to allow them to be conductive.
CNTs are networks of graphene that are ultralight and can carry an electric current. CNTs are most efficient when they are evenly dispersed but in solution they just clump together. Our research focuses on creating a polymer network that disperses the CNTs (and keeps them dispersed) while maintaining the properties of our bottlebrush polymer.
Initial results show a bottlebrush copolymer is effective at dispersing CNT’s but dispersant concentrations and conductivity tests are in the works. Additional preliminary experiments to modify the bottlebrush crosslinks show promising progress towards an easier to work with crosslinker.