New Discovery About Polymers Could Lead to Better Plastics

A team of researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has uncovered certain properties of shish-kebabs -- tiny structures that can form when polymers crystallize during flow -- that should lead to improved materials in the most widely used plastics.

Shish-kebabs are made of polymers known as polyolefins. In addition to being used for car parts, polyolefins are also used to make pipes, wire, cable, carpets, fabrics, disposable syringes, and more. The researchers discovered that some molecules (especially long ones) can marshal many others to create the shish, which then direct the formation of kebabs. This knowledge will allow for greater control of the creation process itself.

"In other words, you could make things by injection molding that you couldn't make before, and injection molding is a very cheap, fast process -- you can pop a plastic bumper for an automobile out of its mold in a couple of minutes. So you bring down the cost of manufacturing and at the same time increase the throughput," said Caltech chemical engineering professor Julia Kornfield.

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