Turning vapors into foam-like polymer coatings

October 11, 2013
An initiated chemical vapor deposition (ICVD) system is used to convert a mixture of gases into foam polymer. Credit: Adam Fenster/University of Rochester.

the essential component of plastics—are found in countless commercial, medical, and industrial products. Polymers that are porous are called foam polymers and are especially useful because they combine light weight with rigid mechanical properties. Now a researcher at the University of Rochester has developed a process to grow highly customizable coatings of foam-like polymers.

The process, developed by Mitchell Anthamatten, a chemical engineer at the University's Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Science, involves growing foam polymers directly from gases. His findings were published this week in the journal Macromolecular Rapid Communications.

"With this process we can grow coatings in which the density and varies in space," said Anthamatten. "My hope is that the research leads to applications in a wide variety of fields, including medical, manufacturing, and high-tech research."

Anthamatten, working closely with graduate student Ran Tao, developed a system in which a mixture of gases is pumped into a low pressure reactor containing a cold surface to encourage condensation. One of the condensed actually forms the polymer material (think of the solid part of a sponge), while the other one temporarily occupies the spaces that become the pores in the foam material (think of the hollow part of a sponge). But the problem is that the liquids in the film don't mix well—very much like water and oil. What's required is to quickly solidify the polymer film, just as the two liquids begin to separate from one another. By controlling the solidification rate, they could control the size and distribution of the pores; the faster the coating is solidified, the smaller the become.

Anthamatten and Tao found the answer by adjusting the rate at which the were fed into the system, changing the temperature of the cold surface in the reactor, and using a chemical agent that helps solidify the coating. By adjusting all those factors, they were able to coat foam polymers with different densities, thicknesses, shapes, and hole-sizes.

Foam polymer coatings with varying density and pore structures are made in the lab of chemical engineer Mitchell Anthamatten. Credit: Adam Fenster/University of Rochester

"This process is highly customizable, meaning that we can make adjustments along the way, shaping the material's pore structure and density as it is grown," said Anthamatten. "As a result, it will be easier to put foam polymers in hard-to-get-at places, or even on curved surfaces."

Anthamatten has worked on the project since 2008 and has received support from the National Science Foundation.

Foam polymers are used in a variety of ways, including the delivery of drugs in the body, as a framework for body tissues and implants, and as layers in laser targets for fusion research.

Explore further: Thin polymer coating used to create fire-resistant fabrics

Related Stories

Versatile polymer film synthesis method invented

August 2, 2013

(Phys.org) —Forming perfect porous polymer films is not enough; they need both large and small pores, and the process of making them needs to be simple, versatile and repeatable. Creatively combining already established ...

Carbon capture: Durable plastic doubles as a cleaner

September 25, 2013

Melamine, a small aromatic molecule loaded with nitrogen atoms, has traditionally found fame as a tough plastic that is ideal for making durable dishware and laminate coatings. Research by Mei Xuan Tan, Yugen Zhang and Jackie ...

Clues to foam formation could help find oil

October 8, 2013

Blowing bubbles in the backyard is one thing and quite another when searching for oil. That distinction is at the root of new research by Rice University scientists who describe in greater detail than ever precisely how those ...

Recommended for you

Yarn from slaughterhouse waste

July 29, 2015

ETH researchers have developed a yarn from ordinary gelatine that has good qualities similar to those of merino wool fibers. Now they are working on making the yarn even more water resistant.

Findings illuminate animal evolution in protein function

July 27, 2015

Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Richmond researchers recently teamed up to explore the inner workings of cells and shed light on the 400–600 million years of evolution between humans and early animals ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

NikFromNYC
1 / 5 (5) Oct 23, 2013
# ##### #####
# # # # # #### ##### ###### # #
# # # # # # # # # #
# # # # #### # # # # ##### ###
####### # # # # # ##### # #
# # # # # # # # # #
# # ###### ##### #### # # ###### #
#######

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.