To commemorate Polymer Solutions Incorporated’s 25 years in business, we’ve collected the top 25 innovations using polymers and plastics that are making the world a better — and cooler — place. Here are the first 13. Are there other innovations that you’d like to suggest?
Stopping internal bleeding — The Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency developed a polymer foam that can be injected into an abdominal cavity. Once inside, it expands and puts pressure on internal organs to stop their bleeding. The foam, which can be easily removed by doctors once the wounded soldier is taken to a medical facility, significantly reduces blood loss and heightens the rate of survival, especially during the first and critical hour after an injury. Tests showed that the foam stopped blood flow from a liver injury for three hours.
Healing damaged tissue — Harvard University scientists created a polymer scaffold that can be squeezed small enough to fit in a needle, injected into the body at the site of damaged tissue, where it regains its intended shape through a shape-memory effect. Then it releases drugs or cells to seed new growth of the damaged tissue. Similarly, a researcher at Tufts University is exploring way to regenerate human tissue, using electricity.
Flexible robots — Harvard University researchers are using polymers to create flexible robots, such as one that can move like an octopus. The innovation has a range of applications: from helping scientists understand how camouflage is used in nature, helping doctors plan complex surgeries, to acting as a visual marker to help search crews following a disaster.
Scratch repair — Engineers and polymer scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst made a discovery with polymer nanostructures that will fill in and bind to tiny areas, such as scratches on cars, that have been damaged. The development means that less material will be needed to make repairs, rather than replacing an entire part or resurfacing an entire area.
Oil spills — Researchers at Pennsylvania State University developed a polymer that transforms oil into a soft gel that then can be easily removed from an oil spill. The polymer can absorb 40 times its own weight.
Polymer skin — Stanford University scientists have developed the first artificial skin with polymers that can sense pressure and repeatedly heal itself at room temperature. The skin could be used with prosthetic devices.
Tumor killer – Duke University scientists have tested a thermally responsive radioactive peptide polymer that is more effective at controlling tumors than traditional methods of implanting radioactive devices next to a cancer site.
Polymer lotion — Cream with special polymer, developed by researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi, protects the skin against intense heat.
Anti-bacterial hydrogel — Researchers developed a polymer anti-microbial hydrogel that not only cleans surfaces and protects against infection from medical devices, but also can be be injected into the body to treat tough infections.
Transparent soil – European researchers have developed a synthetic polymer that creates synthetic, transparent soil, allowing scientists to identify new ways of preventing food-borne illnesses. For example, if scientists can see how potentially lethal E. coli bacteria interacts with lettuce roots, then they can develop strategies that will limit the transfer of the bacteria to the food chain.
Bone pain — Carnegie Mellon University researchers have invented a polymer that helps prevent the hardening of soft tissue that often occurs following orthopedic surgery and amputations. The nanostructural polymer composite delivers unique RNA into cells at the bone trauma location with the aim of preventing the ossification in the soft tissue.
Artificial cornea — German scientists have built artificial corneas out of polymers. The material may be helpful for people who have corneas traumatized or ravaged by disease and cannot tolerate a transplant.
Elastic medical devices — Scientists at Northwestern University discovered how porous polymers with liquid metals give medical monitoring devices unprecedented elasticity so that they can be more easily integrated into the human body. The innovation will allow more patients who have conditions that require frequent monitoring to lead more normal lives and not have to visit doctors’ offices or hospitals as often.
(To be continued…)
Images by S. Morin, Harvard University, used with permission (top); and by mize2oo5 (bottom).
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.