A study recently published in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition debuts a new method that converts generic polymers into luminescent polymers by way of mechanical force. The technique has the potential to revolutionize polymers like polystyrene and polyethylene, which are the building blocks in a wide variety of consumer products including plastics.
Study author Professor Hajime Ito is Vice Director of the Institute for Chemical Reaction Design and Discovery (WPI-ICReDD) at Hokkaido University, where the investigation was conducted. Hajime Ito comments: "Luminescent polymers are widely used in modern society, in applications such as organic lasers, solar cells, sensors, and bioimaging, but their preparation often requires multiple chemical synthesis steps, which are both time and labor-intensive.”
The method Ito and collaborating Hokkaido colleagues developed solves this obstacle by adding luminescent properties to polymers using mechanical force instead of organic synthetic methods.
"It is well known that mechanically stimulating polymers, for example by grinding or crushing them, generates reactive species called free radicals," says study co-author Associate Professor Koji Kubota. "Inspired by this phenomenon, as well as our previous research into mechanical-force-induced luminescence and reactions, we wanted to investigate whether we could find a simpler method for preparing functional luminescent materials."
Turns out their idea worked, as they demonstrated with a variety of generic polymers including polystyrene, polyethylene, polyphenylene sulfide, polysulfone. Such luminescent polymers could be used in medical settings for bioimaging reagents as well as in pressure-sensitive sensors.