Research chemists led by Dr Stefan Bon of Warwick University’s Department of Chemistry have devised a process that simply and cheaply covers small polymer particles with a layer of silica-based nanoparticles.
The soap-free emulsion polymerisation process first makes colloid particles of polymer that are dispersed in water. Then, nanometre-sized, silica-based particles are introduced to the mix, which coat the polymer colloids.
The result is a versatile polymer latex product that can be used to create scratch-resistant paints in which the scratches heal themselves. It can also be fine tuned to produce polymer-based packaging, which will allow water or air to pass through the packaging in tailored ways.
The material created can be processed further in a second step that deposits yet another polymer layer on top of the silica-based nanoparticle polymers.
The Warwick research team worked on a number of other processes that coated polymers in forms of protection, but they all required a number of steps to produce the end result.
They claim that the new process dramatically reduces the time needed to create such materials and that it can be reproduced on a mass scale with currently used industrial equipment.
The image shows such a multi-layered polymer colloid taken with a transmission electron microscope