SusChEM: Resourceful Polymers Derived from Polyhydroxyl Natural Products
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In this project funded by the Macromolecular, Supramolecular, and Nanochemistry Program of the Chemistry Division, Professor Karen Wooley of Texas A&M University is studying how to synthesize complex polymers from naturally occurring sugars. Polymers are long chain organic molecules and are found in many facets of everyday life that utilize plastics, including food packaging, structural materials for automotive and aerospace transportation, and lightweight electronic devices. Polymers derived from naturally occurring compounds are anticipated to degrade into completely biocompatible products. This work is of scientific and societal importance for several reasons, as it is expected to: (1) reduce our reliance on petrochemical feedstocks; (2) advance chemical knowledge and experimental techniques involved with the synthesis of advanced polymer materials; (3) generate polymers that will be useful as unique "plastics"; (4) produce environmentally-resorbable and biologically-beneficial (e.g., nutrient, growth-promoting, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory or other responses) products upon degradation of the polymers.The research project involves the development of synthetic chemistry approaches with the objective being the production of a series of polycarbonates and polyphosphoesters that originate from renewable resources, exhibit novel chemical, physical and mechanical properties, and undergo hydrolytic breakdown to biologically-beneficial or benign by-products. Functional monomers are being prepared from polyhydroxyl natural products (as the primary focus, sugars are serving as the starting materials) and transformed by ring-opening polymerizations. In one direction, cyclic carbonate monomers are being prepared that will yield polymers that contain carbonate linkages. Hydrolytic degradation will produce the polyhydroxyl compound plus carbon dioxide. In a second direction, phosphoester linkages are being utilized, borrowing from natural polymers such as DNA or RNA. Studies are being performed to advance controlled ring opening polymerizations of cyclic carbonates or phosphoesters to afford these polymers as well-defined macromolecular structures. The physical, mechanical and stability properties of the polymers are being characterized using rigorous physicochemical and mechanical characterization studies and tuned via their chemical compositions and structures. The broader impacts of the project involve the synthetic chemistry advances, the ultimate materials that are developed, and the educational outcomes for the students and postdoctoral associates involved in the proposed work. The project integrates research and education across the schools of science and engineering. The proposed polyhydroxyl natural product-based polycarbonates are expected to exhibit properties that will allow for their development in applications that will solve real-world problems.