Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a hybrid polymer that combines multiple materials and features removable compartments. Combining materials of varying properties creates the potential for active functioning components, the researchers say, and could lead to advancements in self-repairing materials, drug delivery and artificial muscles.

Molecular model of a hybrid polymer that features removable.   Molecular model of a hybrid polymer that features removable. The hybrid polymer is composed of both rigid and soft nano-sized compartments, based on inclusion of two known polymer types: those formed with strong covalent bonds and which provide rigidity and structure; and those formed with weak, non-covalent bonds. The latter type, commonly known as “supramolecular polymers,” are removable, react to stimuli, and can be regenerated multiple times.

This method of growing the two types of polymers simultaneously generates a structure that is different form polymers in the past, and from polymers grown alone from either covalent or non-covalent bonds.

“We can create active or responsive materials not known previously by taking advantage of the compartments with weak non-covalent bonds, which should be highly dynamic like living things,” says Samuel Stupp, senior author of the Northwestern study and director of the university’s BioNanotechnology Institute.

Stupp says that the lab continues the research and is currently working to develop forms of the hybrid polymers to behave like artificial muscles.

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