Our team has demonstrated that the energy a strand absorbs before breaking, the force at which it breaks, and the extension it can achieve, can all be controlled through new combinations of chemical reactivity and structural activity. This molecular control leads to macroscopic responses. For example, resonance stabilization of reaction transition states along polymer strands results in changes in macroscopic network properties that can be felt by hand, and covalent reactive strand extension changes limits of network extensibility and tear resistance.
In other work, we focus on networks in which strand composition is fixed, but the junctions – defined here broadly as the connections that hold the network together – are dynamic and controlled by extrinsic or intrinsic chemical reactivity. The defining molecular characteristics of junctions include their valency (number of strands attached) and the mechanisms and rates by which strands exchange positions. Our team has developed molecular strategies to precisely control these features of junctions, and showed that the mechanistic details of their reactions are connected to dramatic changes in overall network function.
Finally, we embrace the growing trend toward the increased use of big data in chemistry, noting that the same fundamental question that drives our research will drive the polymer chemistry data revolution, namely: What are the key molecular attributes that contribute to network properties? As a Center dedicated to pushing the limits of what networks comprise, what properties they can attain, and what chemical function they can produce, MONET is uniquely positioned to guide the development of data methods that capture the polymer chemistry of the future, and not just the present.