Polymer Composites With Enhanced Electrical, Thermal Properties

Researchers are always searching for new, flexible materials for the next generation of soft robots and electronic devices, including novel medical devices.

Now a team of chemists and engineers at Carnegie Mellon University has developed a process to create a new class of stretchable polymer composites with enhanced electrical and thermal properties that they believe will be well-suited for these applications.

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, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon and director of the Soft Machines Lab—has at its core a metal alloy that is liquid at ambient temperatures, eutectic gallium indium. The research hinges on turning this material into an elastomer to create a soft, highly stretchable, and multi-functional composite with high level of thermal stability and electrical conductivity.
In past work, Majidi already developed rubber compositesThat used nanoscopic droplets of liquid metal, but with mixed results. While the materials had promise, the mechanical method used to mix the composite’s components created materials with inconsistent properties, he said.

For the new research, Majidi called upon colleague Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, a professor of natural sciences and polymer chemist at Carnegie Mellon, to aid him in polymerizing his composite material.

Matyjaszewski developed a technique called atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) in 1994, allowing scientists to string together monomers piece by piece to form highly-tailored polymers with specific properties.

“New materials are only effective if they are reliable,” he said of the technique. “You need to know that your material will work the same way every time before you can make it into a commercial product.”Image result for Polymer Composites With Enhanced Electrical, Thermal Properties

Indeed, his is what ATRP can do, resulting in materials that have consistent, reliable structures and unique properties, he said. Working together, Matyjaszewski and Majidi used ATRP to attach monomer brushes to the surface nanodroplets of eutectic gallium indium. These brushes linked together to form strong bonds to the droplets, resulting in dispersing the liquid metal evenly throughout the elastomer, researchers said.

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