Engineers led by Rutgers team has come up with an automated way to produce polymers, which could be easier to create advanced materials aimed at improving human health.
The innovation came as a crucial step pushing the boundaries of researchers who want to know more of large libraries of polymers, which includes plastics and fibres, used for chemical and biological applications such as drugs and regenerative medicine through tissue engineering.
Comparing to a human researcher, who may be able to make a few polymers a day, the new automated system - featuring custom software and a liquid-handling robot - can create up to 384 different polymers at once, a huge increase over current methods.
According to the study in the journal Advanced Intelligent Systems, Synthetic polymers are widely used in advanced materials with special properties, and their continued development is crucial to new technologies Such technologies include diagnostics, medical devices, electronics, sensors, robots and lighting.
"Typically, researchers synthesize polymers in highly controlled environments, limiting the development of large libraries of complex materials," said senior author Adam J. Gormley, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the School of Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. "By automating polymer synthesis and using a robotic platform, it is now possible to rapidly create a multitude of unique materials."
Since most chemical reactions are extremely sensitive to oxygen and can't be done without removing it during production, synthesizing polymers could come as a challenge. The Gormley lab's open-air robotics platform carries out polymer synthesis reactions that tolerate oxygen.
The group developed custom software that allows a liquid handling robot to interpret polymer designs made on a computer and carry out every step of the chemical reaction. The major benefit of the process is that the new automated system makes it easier for non-experts to create polymers....