Research in Macromolecular Science: Challenges and Opportunities for the Next Decade
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In a recent study under the auspices of the Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES), entitled "Directing Matter and Energy: Five Challenges for Science and the Imagination", the significant challenges for the broad field of Basic Energy Sciences were formulated (the full report is available at http://www.sc.doe.gov/BES/reports/abstracts. html#GC). It is illuminating to compare these targets with those identified in the NSF Polymers Workshop and summarized here because although the BES report is necessarily much broader in scope, there are direct analogies in all cases. For example, the first BES grand challenge is: How do we control material processes at the level of electrons? This mirrors the basic goal of polymer science, where the manifestation of electronic structures on the monomer scale in polarizable media, and the ultimate electronic properties of assembled macromolecules, require thorough investigation and understanding. Similarly, the second grand challenge is: How do we design and perfect atom- and energy-efficient synthesis of revolutionary new forms of matter with tailored properties? This is directly analogous to the goal of increased synthetic efficiency and sustainability in polymer chemistry. The remaining three challenges could have been taken directly from the Polymers Workshop: How do remarkable properties of matter emerge from complex correlations of the atomic or electronic constituents, and how can we control these properties? How can we master energy and information on the nanoscale to create new technologies with capabilities rivaling those of living things? How do we characterize and control matter away-especially very far away-from equilibrium? We contend that these parallels between the two reports are not coincidental, but reflect the breadth of polymer science, and how advances in understanding and controlling the properties of polymeric materials, via a synergistic collaborative approach among experimentalists and theorists, will ultimately contribute in substantial ways to all the technological challenges that confront modern society. The challenges are great, but the opportunities are vast; these are exciting times to work in macromolecular science. 2009 American Chemical Society.