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Radical polymer breaks conductivity record

Nonconjugated polymer with pendant radicals conducts electricity as well as conjugated polymers, thanks to interlaced network

by Bethany Halford
March 26, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 13


The structure of PTEO.

Chemical engineers at Purdue University reported the highest conductivity for an organic radical polymer to date. Unlike conjugated polymers, which shuttle charge through delocalized bonds in their backbones, nonconjugated radical polymers move charge between localized radical sites that dangle like pendants from the polymer backbone. As a result, radical polymers typically are less conductive than their conjugated cousins. At the meeting, a team led by Bryan W. Boudouris and Brett M. Savoie described a nonconjugated radical polymer that possesses electrical conductivity on par with conjugated polymers and could therefore have applications in displays or batteries. The material, poly(4-glycidyloxy-2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidine-1-oxyl), or PTEO (shown), features a flexible ether backbone and pendant nitroxide radicals (Science 2018, DOI: 10.1126/science.aao7287). As synthesized and made into a film, the material doesn’t have remarkable conductivity. But when the researchers heat it to 80 °C and then let it cool to room temperature, the polymer backbone bends, allowing the nitroxide groups to associate and form conductive pathways throughout the material. This arrangement gives the polymer an electrical conductivity that is 1,000 times as great as that of other organic radical polymers.


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