CAREER: Conformational Control of pi-Conjugated Polymeric Materials Through Dynamic Bonds
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NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY This project aims to investigate the fundamental correlation between the geometry of electrically semiconducting polymer molecules and their corresponding materials properties. Most polymeric molecules possess structural flexibility at the nanometer and subnanometer scales, which leads to various 3D shapes that they can adopt. Such geometric variability impacts a wide range of polymer properties that are important for their applications, especially those related to electronic and optical properties. Precision control of the molecular shapes of semiconducting polymers, however, has been a long-standing scientific challenge. This CAREER project tackles this problem by synthesizing molecules with reversible and controllable interactions between different segments along the polymer chain. Through this approach, planarized geometries of these polymer molecules can be enforced and disrupted on demand, leading to tailored properties as a result of the switchable molecular shapes. Establishment of this structural control may not only enable the access of improved functional performance, but also allow for feasible processing of polymer materials into application-relevant forms. In addition, the knowledge gained in this project will advance fundamental understanding in materials-related sciences and benefit multiple research disciplines and STEM education. The educational component of this program focuses on connecting scientific concepts and real-world personal knowledge for the students through relevant experiments in the lab and immersive learning experiences. The societal impacts of this project include benefits from scientific publications, new course components, educational software, and trained STEM students for academia and industry. TECHNICAL SUMMARY This program integrates research, education, and outreach activities under the overarching theme of functional polymer materials. Through a synergistic approach combining chemical synthesis, process engineering, and materials characterization, the research project seeks to establish clear fundamental correlations between controlled torsional conformation and materials properties of pi-conjugated systems. This plan is driven by the underlining hypothesis that active control over torsional conformation can significantly impact polymer properties and processability. The key strategy to achieve this objective is the incorporation of controllable intramolecular dynamic bonds into polymer backbones. A systematic design principle to the synthesis and process engineering of such polymers will be developed on the basis of theoretical simulations and experimental feedback. Structure-property relationships of these materials will be investigated through iterative design-test-feedback-optimization cycles. The ultimate goal is to draw a clear structure-property correlation and to establish design principles for tailoring the integrated properties of conjugated polymeric materials. In parallel, educational and outreach activities are planned to enhance chemistry and broad STEM learning outcome synergistically with the research program. The pedagogical focus is to make the essential connections between scientific knowledge and real-life experiences for the next generation of STEM students through an integrated plan combining course development, undergraduate research programs and outreach activities.