PSI News: Jell-O Shocks! New Moldable Polymer Gel Conducts Electricity
PSI News is the monthly newsletter of Polymer Solutions Incorporated. Please let us know how we're doing. If you have any questions, suggestions or feedback, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this issue:
=> Feature Story: Jell-O Shocks! New Moldable Polymer Gel Conducts Electricity
=> Blacksburg's Quality of Life Ranks High in Nation
=> Highlights from the Polymer Solutions Newsblog
=> Company News and Notes
Jell-O Shocks! New Moldable Polymer Gel Conducts Electricity
by Dale McGeehon
Exclusive to Polymer Solutions News
Applications for innovations in science sometimes seem to fall on the silly side of incredulous, and a hydrogel developed by researchers at Stanford University may contribute to that sentiment.
The researchers have created a jelly -- a kind of conducting hydrogel -- that feels and behaves like biological tissues but conducts electricity like a metal or semiconductor. The gel is quick and easy to make. It can be patterned onto surfaces with an inkjet printer and will later conduct electricity or act as a sensor.
What's next? Martha Stewart using the hydrogel as a decorating item? "You can use your printer to spell out any holiday wish you want onto this colorful paper, and then it will flash its greeting warmly," she might say.
Or how about comedian and Jell-O pitchman Bill Cosby touting the virtues of a novelty item made from the gel? "It looks like a Jell-O Pudding Pop, but it's really a hair curler," he might say.
On the serious side, though, the creators of the jelly -- Stanford Chemical Engineering Associate Professor Zhenan Bao, Material Science and Engineering Associate Professor Yi Cui, and members of their labs -- believe the jelly holds an enormous promise for biological sensors and futuristic energy storage devices. Their research has been published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The secret to the innovation is using long chains of the organic compound, aniline, together with phytic acid, which is found in plant tissues. The acid chemically grabs up to six polymer chains at once, creating an extensive cross-linked network.
The gel's network creates a complex, sponge-like structure. And like a sponge, the hydrogel is pockmarked with innumerable tiny pores that significantly expand the gel's surface area. That area increases the amount of charge it can hold, its ability to "sense" chemicals, and the speed with which it makes an electrical response, the researchers say.
"There are already commercially available conductive polymers," Boa says, "but they all form a uniform film without any nanostructures."
Because the gel is malleable, it can be manipulated into any shape the designer wants. The material doesn't become rigid until the last step of the synthesis. Therefore, it can be printed or sprayed as a liquid and turned into a gel after it's in the desired place or shape. This means that the designers should be able to construct intricately patterned electrodes at low cost.
"You can't print Jell-O," says Cui. "But with this technique, we can print it and make it Jell-O later."
The unusual structure is what gives the gel "remarkable electronic properties," says Cui. Most hydrogels are bound by a large number of insulating molecules, reducing the material's overall ability to conduct electrical current. But phytic acid is a "small molecule dopant," meaning that when it binds to polymer chains, it also lends them a charge. The effect makes the hydrogel highly conductive.
The gel's ability to conduct electricity is "among the best you can get through this kind of process," says Cui. Its capacity to hold a charge is very high, and its response to an applied charge is unusually fast, the researchers claim.
The gel's similarity to biological tissues, its large surface area, and its electrical capabilities make it well suited for allowing biological systems to communicate with technological hardware. The researchers believe it could be used for medical probes, laboratory biological sensors to biofuel cells, and high-energy density capacitors.
"And all it's made of are commercially available ingredients thrown into a water solution," said Bao.
You can almost hear Bill Cosby say the same thing in his next Jell-O commercial.
Source: "Stanford Researchers Synthesize Printable, Electrically Conductive Gel," Stanford University press release, 6/27/12
Source: "Hierarchical nanostructured conducting polymer hydrogrel with high electrochemical activity," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 5/29/12
Image by Archenzo, used under its Creative Commons license.
Blacksburg's Quality of Life Ranks High in Nation
By Dale McGeehon
Exclusive to Polymer Solutions News
Blacksburg, VA, is fast becoming a popular place to live, work, and play -- as the PSI team can attest, and national news outlets confirm.
Not only did Bloomberg Businessweek rate is as the best town in America to raise kids, but the city has won many other accolades, including one of the best small places for small business careers and one of America's best educated towns.
Excellent schools, a low cost of living, relatively low crime, and many amenities combined to provide the Bloomberg Businessweek ranking. "There's very little crime," says Becky MacKenzie, a 34-year-old mother of three and a resident of Blacksburg since 2003. "There are kids' programs, green space, trails. It is a nice place to live and a nice place to raise kids. Everyone knows everyone. The weather is nice. The cost of living is not that high."
Blacksburg is known as a college town, home to Virginia Tech, and the university comprises half of the town's 41,383 citizens. But the quality of the town -- with its community center, location between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains, resources for fitness buffs, and a 54-acre municipal golf course -- is a huge draw for families not associated with the university.
The base for the rankings resulted from a search of towns with a crime index of less than 10% above the national average, populations between 1,000 and 50,000 people, and median family income within 20% of the state median. The news organization evaluated 4,169 communities that met these criteria.
For each of those towns, Bloomberg evaluated educational factors (such as school scores, number of public and private schools, and colleges), economic factors (such as median family income, expenses, job growth, and unemployment), crime, amenities, air quality, and ethnic diversity. School performance, expenditures, and income were weighted more heavily in the survey.
Because of those weighted evaluators, the fact that Blacksburg is more educated than most comparable towns certainly helped its ranking. About two-thirds of the town's residents have a bachelor's degree or higher. Nearly 40% have a graduate or professional degree, according to Census Bureau data. In a similar survey, Forbes magazine ranked the town as being the 14th best educated among small towns. Moreover, Blacksburg High School has been ranked in the top 5% of the nation's schools by Newsweek, and Virginia Tech is among the best graduate schools, as rated by U.S. News & World Report.
The town also has a large middle-income population. Median family income is $83,670, slightly higher than the state median of $72,476. Salaries at Virginia Tech certainly help, as its 1,306 full-time employees make an average of $87,400.
Forbes also ranked Blacksburg #31 on a list of best small towns in the nation for business and careers in 2009. The Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, which has more than 140 high-tech companies with more than 2,200 employees, aims to develop the economy further by expanding and improving the local technology industry, taking advantage of the supply of engineers at Virginia Tech. Blacksburg Industrial Park is home to manufacturing and research-and-development businesses, including Polymer Solutions Incorporated. Other companies include Modea, an advertising agency, started by Virginia Tech grads, and Webmail.us, an email hosting company.
It's not just raw data or rankings that attracts people to Blacksburg.
"People in Blacksburg are very passionate about Blacksburg," MacKenzie says.
Kimberly O'Farrell, a laboratory technician in PSI's thermal lab, points to the area's numerous natural amenities as her favorite.
"The best kept secret of Blacksburg would have to lie within the Huckleberry Trail!" exclaims O'Farrell. Huckleberry Trail contains "miles of beautiful scenery and is the perfect escape for bikers, runners, and casual countryside strollers alike." She adds, "The New River, the oldest river on the North American continent and second oldest in the world, flows right through the Blacksburg area. The New River provides the community with many outdoor activities, such as tubing, camping, rock climbing, hiking, and fishing."
After all that outdoor activity there remains one more undeniable draw, says Anthony Bryant, PSI's IT Administrator. "There are an exceptional number of great local restaurants carrying everything from veggie cuisine to authentic Thai."
No wonder Blacksburg enjoys such a high-quality of life ranking.
Source: "Virginia Town is Best Place in the U.S. to Raise Kids," Bloomberg Businessweek, 11/15/11
Image by jad va, used under its Creative Commons license.
Highlights from the Polymer Solutions Newsblog
The PSI Newsblog covers breaking news in the fields of plastics analysis, plastics testing, and plastics failure. Here are a few of the month's top articles:
- Polymers... As a Male Contraceptive?
A medical procedure involving polymers is 100% effective, relatively noninvasive, and completely reversible. In other words: your boys can no longer swim.
- Tire Manufacturer Testing Dandelion Rubber
From humble weed to the fast lane… The taproots of the Russian Dandelion might be key to meeting the world's demand for sustainable car tires.
- FDA User-Fee Bill Becomes Law
President Obama has signed into law a bill to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to collect user fees from the medical device industry. How will the estimated $595 million dollars raised be spent?
- Breast Cancer Detection Device Gets Nod From FDA
An advisory panel from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has favorably recommended the U.S. use of a real-time breast cancer detection device that is used in the operating room.
- Grant to Improve Polymers in 3-D Printing
A research institute in Ohio has received $3 million to improve the composition of polymers to create better products made from three-dimensional printing. All eyes on the buckeyes!
Company News and Notes
PSI Team News
New Website Launching... We are polishing every page of our new website –- down to the last .jpeg, .gif, and animation –- in anticipation of offering you a more functional and visually pleasing site.
Hippie Invasion... PSI hosted "Relaxation Day" on August 3rd. Everyone was encouraged to dress in "hippie attire" and invited to enjoy a comfort food luncheon complete with chair massages and guided meditation sessions. Yes, folks, we discovered that it is possible to enjoy a bit of California right in the middle of Virginia!
Thank you for reading Polymer Solutions News! Please feel free to forward this newsletter to others who might be interested.
Subscribe to our Newsletter for industry updates:
Polymer Solutions News is a monthly publication of Polymer Solutions Incorporated, an independent laboratory and a strategic global resource for chemical analysis, physical testing, research and development services, and litigation services. Please email us with any corrections, comments, reprint requests, suggestions for stories, requests for quotes, or other feedback.