Predicting the behaviour of disordered polymers for new synthetic polymers

An image to illustrate how understanding disordered proteins and polymers could lead to new materials from synthetic polymers
© iStock/Artem_Egorov

The discovery of how to make predictions about the behaviour of disordered proteins and polymers could lead to breakthroughs in new materials made of synthetic polymers.

The team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Massachusetts Amherst have read the patterns on long chains of molecules to predict the behaviour of disordered polymers and proteins, which could result in the development of new materials from synthetic polymers.

Changing the strength of polymers

Complex molecules, the links to the chain, are built up by monomers. The research team’s theory is that by knowing the sequence of monomers and polymers, as well as whether the charge associated with them is positive, negative, or neutral, they can predict the physical properties of complex molecules.

Charles Sing, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Illinois, explained: “The thing that I think is exciting about this work is that we’re taking inspiration from a biological system. The typical picture of a protein shows that it folds into a very precise structure. This system, however, is based around intrinsically disordered proteins.”

Sing added: “What we are able to show is that you can actually change the strength of this by changing it on the sequence very specifically. There are cases here that by changing the sequence by just a single monomer (a single link in that chain), it can drastically change how these things are able to form. We have also proven that we can predict the outcome.”

Bringing biology and synthetic polymers closer together

Sing concluded: “This in some sense is bringing biology and synthetic polymers closer together. For example, at the end of the day, there is not a major difference in the chemistry between proteins and nylon. Biology is using that information to instruct how life happens. If you can put in the identify of these various links specifically, that’s valuable information for a number of other applications.”

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