The innovation engine for new materials

Megan Poster


Santa Barbara High School

Grade Level: 

High School

Teaching Position: 



Chris Bates




Jeff Self

Research Project Year: 


Research Project Title: 

Designing a Soft yet Conductive Polymer Network

Research Project Description: 

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.


Curriculum Project Year: 


Curriculum Project Title: 

How do molecular changes affect properties of stuff?

Curriculum Project Description: 

This is a high school level 5E lesson in accordance with the Next Generation Science standards for a Chemistry in the Earth System course. It covers basic intermolecular forces and how they relate to the bulk-scale properties of substances through the lens of plastics. Students first explore what the forces between molecules are and then begin to uncover how they relate to basic properties like boiling point and state of matter. Students participate in a rigorous, lab-based group assessment claiming which of a group of colorless, transparent liquids has the strongest intermolecular forces. They then individually analyze four chemical formulas to determine which has the strongest interactions based on their understanding of molecule polarity, shape, and strength of IMFs.  Students will also make bioplastics and test their properties against traditional petroleum-based plastics and compile and analyze this data as a class. Finally, students will learn about sustainability and cost of traditional plastics versus bioplastics and make an argument answering “How do molecular changes affect properties of stuff?” using unit content as evidence. FOR CURRICULUM RESOURCES PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE.

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