Magazine article Science News

Conductive Polymers Get Closer to Home

Magazine article Science News

Conductive Polymers Get Closer to Home

Article excerpt

Conductive polymers get closer to home

Easy-to-process polymers that conduct electricity are edging closer to largescale commercialization. Researchers envision many novel uses, including antistatic coatings for delicate electronic equipment, lightning protection for airplanes, spark-resistant clothing for people working near explosive fumes, and shilds to block electromagnetic radiation emitted from computers and TVs.

For years, processing and stability problems have limited conductive polymers to small-scale specialty applications. Two scientists now say they have modified a conducting polymer so that it appears free of such problems. "We have a very simple process here in a very simple polymer," says physicist Arthur J. Epstein of Ohio State University in Columbus, who did the work with chemistry graduate student Jiang Yue. Their report appears in the March 28 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY.

Polyaniline -- a molecular chain in which benzene rings alternate with nitrogen-centered amine groups -- serves as the starting material for the new conducting polymer. Epstein and Yue first convert this backbone into an insulating from and then chemically bond acidic sulfonate groups to half of its benzene rings. In a process known as doping, the sulfonate groups enhance polyalinine's conductivity by contributing negative charge to nearby nitrogen atoms, freeing other electrons in the molecule to travel down the chain. By processing the polymer so that millions of chains line up side by side, the Ohio team and others can make materials in which conduction electrons can almost always avoid dead-ends by hopping to adjacent chains. …

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