Chemists design new polymer structures for use as 'plastic electronics'

Apr 28, 2011
Malika Jeffries-EL and her Iowa State University research group are studying polymers that can conduct electricity. Credit: Photo by Bob Elbert/Iowa State University

Iowa State University's Malika Jeffries-EL says she's studying doing structure-property studies so she can teach old polymers new tricks.

Those tricks improve the properties of certain organic polymers that mimic the properties of traditional inorganic semiconductors and could make the polymers very useful in , light-emitting diodes and thin-film transistors.

Conductive polymers date back to the late 1970s when researchers Alan Heeger, Alan MacDiarmid and Hideki Shirakawa discovered that plastics, with certain arrangements of atoms, can conduct electricity. The three were awarded the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery.

Jeffries-EL, an Iowa State assistant professor of chemistry, is working with a post-doctoral researcher and nine doctoral students to move the field forward by studying the relationship between polymer structures and the electronic, physical and optical properties of the materials. They're also looking for ways to synthesize the polymers without the use of harsh acids and temperatures by making them soluble in .

The building blocks of their work are a variety of benzobisazoles, molecules well suited for electrical applications because they efficiently transport electrons, are stable at and can absorb photons.

And if the polymers are lacking in any of those properties, Jeffries-EL and her research group can do some chemical restructuring.

"With these polymers, if you don't have the properties you need, you can go back and change the wheel," Jeffries-EL said. "You can change the and produce what's missing."

That, she said, doesn't work with silicon and other for semiconductors: "Silicon is silicon. Elements are constant."

The National Science Foundation is supporting Jeffries-EL's polymer research with a five-year, $486,250 Faculty Early Career Development grant. She also has support from the Iowa Power Fund (a state program that supports energy innovation and independence) to apply organic semiconductor technology to solar cells.

The research group is seeing some results, including peer-reviewed papers over the past two years in Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, Macromolecules, the Journal of Polymer Science Part A: Polymer Chemistry, and the Journal of Organic Chemistry.

"This research is really about fundamental science," Jeffries-EL said. "We're studying the relationships between structure and material properties. Once we have a with a certain set of properties, what can we do?"

She and her research group are turning to the molecules for answers.

"In order to realize the full potential of these materials, they must be engineered at the molecular level, allowing for optimization of materials properties, leading to enhanced performance in a variety of applications," Jeffries-EL wrote in a research summary. "As an organic chemist, my approach to materials begins with small molecules."

Explore further: A refined approach to proteins at low resolution

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Discovery brings organic solar cells a step closer

Jan 15, 2009

Inexpensive solar cells, vastly improved medical imaging techniques and lighter and more flexible television screens are among the potential applications envisioned for organic electronics.

SSRL Aids Development of Plastic Electronics

May 04, 2006

For close to a decade, researchers have been trying to improve the performance of plastic semiconductors to the level of amorphous silicon—the semiconductor used in low-cost electronics such as photovoltaic ...

Researchers at UA developing next-gen conductive polymers

Dec 23, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Conductive polymers, while not quite wonder materials, have the potential for being so and University of Akron polymer scientists and polymer engineers are focused on developing the next generation ...

Striding towards a new dawn for electronics

Sep 28, 2010

Conductive polymers are plastic materials with high electrical conductivity that promise to revolutionize a wide range of products including TV displays, solar cells, and biomedical sensors. A team of McGill University researchers ...

Three-dimensional polymer with unusual magnetism

Nov 13, 2006

Up to now it has not been possible to fabricate magnets from organic materials, like for example plastics. Recently, however, experiments at the Forschungszentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (Germany) in collaboration with an international ...

Recommended for you

A refined approach to proteins at low resolution

Sep 19, 2014

Membrane proteins and large protein complexes are notoriously difficult to study with X-ray crystallography, not least because they are often very difficult, if not impossible, to crystallize, but also because ...

Base-pairing protects DNA from UV damage

Sep 19, 2014

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich researchers have discovered a further function of the base-pairing that holds the two strands of the DNA double helix together: it plays a crucial role in protecting ...

Smartgels are thicker than water

Sep 19, 2014

Transforming substances from liquids into gels plays an important role across many industries, including cosmetics, medicine, and energy. But the transformation process, called gelation, where manufacturers ...

Separation of para and ortho water

Sep 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Not all water is equal—at least not at the molecular level. There are two versions of the water molecule, para and ortho water, in which the spin states of the hydrogen nuclei are different. ...

User comments : 0