A research team from the Institute for Complex Molecular Systems (ICMS) and the department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry at Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, have demonstrated how a catalyst can be switched from a dormant to an active state by pulling on a polymer chain, a “molecular ripcord.”
The researchers, Alessio Piermattei, Karthik Sivasubramanian and Rint Sijbesma, were able to use this to initiate a variety of chemical reactions, including polymerisations of long chain polymers from monomers.
This discovery paves the way to creating self-repairing materials that strengthen under the influence of mechanical stress. If a material were to tear, for example, this would simultaneously break the metal complex in half, thereby activating the catalyst, and the material would be instantly repaired.
The researchers say that the work will also lead to the ability to turn chemical reactions on and off as desired. Potential applications include the injection moulding of plastic objects, where the technique could be used to simplify processing, or microscale chemical synthesis.