Issue Date: June 22, 2009
Synthetic Polymer Inspired By Nature
Most man-made polymers can't match the multiple mechanical properties of natural biopolymers, according to Zhibin Guan and Aaron M. Kushner of the University of California, Irvine. Nevertheless, they and their colleagues gave it a try and report that they have fashioned the first synthetic polymer to possess the multiple attributes of good resistance to deformation, high toughness, and adaptive properties such as shape memory (J. Am. Chem. Soc., DOI: 10.1021/ja9009666). The researchers used as a model the biopolymer titin, a protein that gives muscle tissue its elasticity. Their synthetic version resembles a beaded necklace and consists of a chain of macromolecular rings separated by long-chain ester-alkene spacers. Each ring is cinched at the middle by four hydrogen bonds between the ring's ureidopyrimidone moieties (shown). When a film cast from the polymer is stretched, the hydrogen bonds break as the pyrimidones are pulled apart and the rings elongate. When left at room temperature, the stretched polymer gradually relaxes back to nearly its original size; if it's heated, the polymer rapidly resumes its original dimensions. Guan says the polymer could be used to make implants, prosthetics, or shape-memory smart materials.
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