April 8, 2009

Catalyst is controlled by mechanical force

Dutch scientists say they have developed a new way of starting chemical reactions, using mechanical forces to control the catalytic activity.

Eindhoven University of Technology researchers say their new technology paves the way to developing materials capable of repairing themselves under the influence of mechanical tension.

The scientists -- Alessio Piermattei, Karthik Sivasubramanian and Professor Rint Sijbesma -- said they are the first to demonstrate a catalyst can be switched from a dormant to an active state by pulling on a polymer chain -- a so-called molecular ripcord. The researchers said they were able to use the catalyst to initiate a variety of chemical reactions, including polymerizations, or the formation of polymer chains from small molecular building blocks called monomers.

The achievement is also expected to spur research into applications in which chemical reactions can be started and stopped, as desired. The scientists said such potential applications include the injection molding of plastic objects, in which the technique could be used to simplify processing.

The study is reported online in the journal Nature Chemistry.