Enginuity 2011

Conductive polymers and electronics

Tackling corrosion with nanotechnology

John Zhanhu GuoMetallic electronic devices such as laptop computers and cell phones won’t work if the conductive metals corrode. John Zhanhu Guo, an assistant professor in the Dan F. Smith Department of Chemical Engineering, and Suying Wei, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, are tackling that problem with nanotechnology.

The pair received funding of $300,000 from the National Science Foundation for a project titled “Synergistic Conductive Multifunctional Polymer Nanocomposites with Soft and Hard Nanofillers.” It is co-sponsored by the Nanoscale Interdisciplinary Research Teams (NIRT) program and Materials Processing and Manufacturing program.

Nanotechnology deals with manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale and involves developing materials and devices within that size. Conductive polymers (plastics) are organic polymers that conduct electricity.

“This project will target conductive polymer nanocomposites from two general approaches,” Guo said. “One is combining different conductive nanofillers such as metal nanoparticles into insulating polymer such as epoxy resin. The other is to utilize the conductive polymer matrix such as polypyrrole and the fillers will introduce different functionalities.”

Guo and Wei will lead their teams in implementing the proposed tasks related to the conductive polymer nanocomposites. The major polymer nanocomposite (PNC) synthesis and processing will be carried out in Guo’s Integrated Composites Laboratory and characterization and property analysis will be carried out in Wei’s laboratory.

Suying WeiThe grant provides funding for developing a series of chemically-stable conductive polymer nanocomposites (cPNCs) to tackle a central problem, corrosion of conductive metals, facing metallic electronic devices including microwave absorbers to prevent microwave irradiation, explosive chemical sensors, magnetic field sensors and electrochromism-based smart windows. If successful, the results of this research will make a significant impact to the rapidly developing field of polymer-based conductive nanostructural materials.“The to-be-developed cPNCs will have multifunctionalities integrating lightweight, electrical conductivity and magnetic properties in one polymer system, which can replace the easily oxidized metals for electronic device applications,” Guo said.

The cPNCs, either from combining different conductive nanofillers into insulating polymer or from utilizing the conductive polymer matrix, bring prospects of organic-based devices with reduced weight density, increased integration and multi-functionality.

Guo is currently working with Western Digital Corp., a global leader in the development and manufacturing of hard drives and solid-state drives, and Ocean NanoTech LLC, which develops and manufactures nanomaterial products. Collaboration with Western Digital and Ocean NanoTech will facilitate the possible commercialization of the newly developed cPNCs, Guo said.