Krzysztof Matyjaszewski wins Dreyfus Prize for polymer research
The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation has announced that Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, J. C. Warner University Professor of Natural Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, has won the 2015 Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences. According to www.dreyfus.org, the Dreyfus Prize is awarded biennially and “recognizes an individual for exceptional and original research in a selected area of chemistry that has advanced the field in a major way.” This year’s topic was Making Molecules and Materials.
While presenting the award, Henry C. Walter, President of the Dreyfus Foundation, said, “Krzysztof Matyjaszewski’s work in polymer chemistry follows in the tradition of Camille and Henry Dreyfus, who were major innovators in the field of material engineering in their day. We are proud to recognize his immense accomplishments with the Dreyfus Prize.” Since the award is presented at the winner’s institution, Matyjaszewski gave an enlightening lecture about his research during the award ceremony last Wednesday in the Mellon Institute Auditorium.
Matyjaszewski’s greatest achievements lie in the development of the Atom Transfer Radical Polymerization (ATRP) process, defined by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) as “controlled reversible-deactivation radical polymerization.” In this process, the deactivation of radicals, or highly reactive molecules, involves reversible atom transfer or reversible group transfer catalyzed usually, though not exclusively, by transition-metal complexes. Matyjaszewski explained ATRP to the public as a method that uses macromolecular engineering to tame free, monomer radicals.
Monomers are molecules that can bind together to form a polymer. Though radicals are useful in forming polymers, they are generally too reactive and short-lived to form the correct shape of polymer that researchers and industries want. The ATRP process uses specific catalysts to set active monomers into dormant states and uses a reducing agent to let the dormant radical go back to the active stage. In this way, monomers can switch between their active and dormant states and, therefore, have an extended life span.
When they were invented in 1995, ATRP methods were expensive and not nearly as efficient as they are now. Several activator regeneration ATRP methods involving different reducing agents were developed afterwards, including photoinduced ATRP. Matyjaszewski and his team contributed the most towards extending metal-free ATRP into the polymerization of acrylonitrile, which successfully advanced polymer synthesis and macromolecular engineering.
According to www.dreyfus.org, in addition to the development of ATRP, Matyjaszewski also helped transfer the ATRP process to industry, where it has “applications that include automotive coatings, adhesives, cosmetics, inkjet printing, smart and electronic materials, and many others, with an estimated commercial value exceeding $20 billion.”
In his lecture, Matyjaszewski mentioned several of his research projects, including those involving bottlebrush-structured polymers that have exactly the same topology, or geometric structure, as a regular bottlebrush, a type of shrub with cylindrical flowers. The polymers, which assist in lubricating joints, are made by creating a backbone and then attaching side chains to it.
Matyjaszewski also discussed super-soft elastomers that were made from these bottlebrushes. In order to make the material super-soft, it must be gel-like, but approximately 99 percent of water molecules that are usually contained in the gels don’t hold on to each other tightly enough. To combat this issue, the research group replaced the water molecules with polymers. They found that when they dropped an egg from a three story building onto a piece of elastomer material, the egg did not break. Matyjaszewski also mentioned one of his student’s ideas about using polymer escorted passenger-SiRNA to treat heterotopic ossification through preventative clinical therapy.
Matyjaszewski described his experience as a researcher in polymers by explaining that his research benefitted from the incorporation of his work with his imagination.
“I feel very honored and flattered to receive the Dreyfus Prize for making molecules and materials,” Matyjaszewski said in a university press release. “This recognition addresses not only contributions of my students and collaborators, but also all polymer chemists working in the area of macromolecular materials with controlled architecture and functionality for targeted applications.”