An alternative to the conventional approach to synthesis of polyimides involves the use of single monomers that are amenable to photopolymerization. Heretofore, the synthesis of polyimides has involved multiple-monomer formulations and heating to temperatures that often exceed 250 °C. The present alternative approach enables synthesis under relatively mild conditions that can include room temperature.

The main disadvantages of the conventional approach are the following:

  • Elevated production temperatures can lead to high production costs and can impart thermal stresses to the final products.
  • If the proportions of the multiple monomeric ingredients in a given batch are not exactly correct, the molecular weight and other physical properties of the final material could be reduced from their optimum or desired values.

A Monomer Molecule suitable for photopolymerization contains a generic spacer group between an ortho-methylbenzophenone and a maleimide group.
To be useful in the alternative approach, a monomer must have a molecular structure tailored to exploit Diels-Alder trapping of a photochemically generated ortho- quinodimethane. (In a Diels-Alder reaction, a diene combines with a dienophile to form molecules that contain six-membered rings.) In particular, a suitable monomer (see figure) contains ortho-methylbenzophenone connected to a dienophile (in this case, a maleimide) through a generic spacer group. Irradiation with ultraviolet light gives rise to a photochemical intermediate — the aforementioned ortho-quinodimethane — from the ortho-methylbenzophenone. This group may react with the dienophile on another such monomer molecule to produce an oligomer that, in turn may react in a step-growth manner to produce a polyimide.

This approach offers several advantages in addition to those mentioned above:

  • The monomer can be stored for a long time because it remains unreactive until exposed to light.
  • Because the monomer is the only active starting ingredient, there is no need for mixing, no concern for ensuring correct proportions of monomers, and the purity of the final product material is inherently high.
  • The use of solvents is optional: The synthesis can be performed using the neat monomer or the monomer mixed with one or more solvent(s) in dilute or concentrated solution.
  • The solubility of the monomer and the physical and chemical properties of the final polymer can be tailored through selection of the spacer group.

This work was done by Michael A. Meador of Glenn Research Center and Daniel S. Tyson and Faysal Ilhan of Ohio Aerospace Institute.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steve Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. Refer to LEW-18174-1.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the April, 2008 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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