Vision. The Center for the Chemistry of Molecularly Optimized Networks (MONET) is transforming polymer and materials chemistry by developing the knowledge and methods to enable molecular-level, chemical control of polymer network properties for the betterment of humankind. We treat networks as complex chemical systems, through which the full power of synthetic, physical, and theoretical chemistry is rationally directed toward overarching challenges in their de novo molecular design. To date, the details of molecular design have been hidden by statistical chemistry and poorly defined structures, limiting the ability to bring chemical knowledge to bear on challenges in network performance and properties. Since our founding in 2018, we have demonstrated new chemical reactivity concepts for optimized network performance, including: enhanced stretchability and durability; switching between multiple states, each having distinct mechanical and chemical function; methods for translating these new structures and properties into databases that account for the stochastic nature of polymer networks.
Transformative Potential. The direct translation of chemical design space into macroscopic properties is transformative on three fronts. First, we create fundamental advances in chemistry by making direct and quantitative connections between the chemistry of a polymer network’s individual components and the full range of its physical behaviors. Physical models currently used to direct polymer network design were constructed without the necessary control and characterization of the relevant molecular constituents. We develop and apply new synthetic and characterization tools, using the knowledge gained to update existing theories and recast polymer networks as a fully chemistry-centered discipline that extends our understanding of, and application of, fundamental chemical principles. Second, we drive conceptual advances by pioneering new forms of embedded covalent response, such as reactive strand extension and multi-state catalytic junctions, into networks for never-before-seen improvements in the limits to which polymer gels and elastomers can be stretched and the chemical function they can provide. Finally, we lay the foundation for technological advances that fuel innovation in formulation and manufacturing in an annual market of $100 billion. Here, the long-term potential includes cost- and time-efficient optimization of network composition in combination with order-of-magnitude improvements in network durability for tough, longer-lived materials that reduce waste, enable end-of-life recycling, and are perfectly tailored to their use environment.