Sandia Team Achieved a Molecule That Enhances Durability and Protects Polymer Components

Category Science

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Sandia National Laboratories research team has developed a molecule that effectively changes the way some materials react to temperature fluctuations, enhancing their durability in everything from phone cases to missiles. The team modified a molecule that can easily be incorporated into a polymer to change its properties, allowing for many more applications.

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A research team at Sandia National Laboratories has developed a molecule that helps change the way some materials react to temperature fluctuations, enhancing their durability. This advancement has the potential to be used in everything from plastic phone cases to missiles.

Polymers, which include various forms of plastics, are made up of many smaller molecules, bonded together. This bond makes them especially strong and an ideal product to be used to protect delicate components in a wide variety of items. However, with time, use, and exposure to different environments, all materials begin to deteriorate.

The molecule is conditioned to contract under varying temperatures, which contrasts other materials which usually expand

One of the biggest factors in materials deterioration is repeated exposure from hot to cold temperatures and back. Most materials expand when heated and contract when cooled, but each material has its own rate of change. Polymers, for example, expand and contract the most, while metals and ceramics contract the least.

Erica Redline, a materials scientist who leads the team, said most items are made up of more than one kind of material.

The polymer components are used to protect delicate components in a wide variety of items from protective coatings in electronics to printed circuit boards and aerospace applications

"Take for example, your phone, which has a plastic housing, coupled to a glass screen, and inside that, the metals and ceramics that make up the circuitry," Redline said. "These materials are all screwed, glued or somehow bonded together and will start expanding and contracting at different rates, putting stresses on one another which can cause them to crack or warp over time." .

Redline said she kept hearing the same complaint from Sandia’s many customers.

The invention of the molecule encourages design space for more innovation

"They’re always talking about thermal expansion mismatch problems and how their existing systems are hard to work with because of all the filler they need to add to compensate," Redline said.

With that, Redline’s idea was born.

"I thought, what if I conjured up a perfect material, what would that look like," Redline said.

Redline thinks she’s done it, with the help of her team Chad Staiger, Jason Dugger, Eric Nagel, Koushik Ghosh, Jeff Foster, Kenneth Lyons, Alana Yoon, and academic alliance collaborators Professor Zachariah Page, and graduate student Meghan Kiker.

The molecule retains the properties of its components but is still able to save space in its configuration

The team modified a molecule so that it can easily be incorporated into a polymer to change its properties.

"This really is a unique molecule that when you heat it up, instead of it expanding, it actually contracts by undergoing a change in its shape," Redline said.

"When it’s added to a polymer, it causes that polymer to contract less, hitting expansion and contraction values similar to metals. To have a molecule that behaves like metal is pretty remarkable." .

The team conducted research in both Sandia National Laboratories and a collaborating academic university

This molecule could be used in endless ways. Polymers are used as protective coatings in electronics, communications systems, solar panels, automotive components, printed circuit boards, aerospace applications, defense systems, flooring, and more.

"The molecule not only solves current issues but significantly opens up design space for more innovations in the future," said Jason Dugger, a Sandia chemical engineer who has been looking at potential applications, especially in defense systems.

The invention is a significant advancement in the field research and shows great potential for the future

Another key to this invention is that it can be incorporated into different parts of a polymer at different pecentages to get different results.

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