1 April 2022

Unveiling 2D polymeric film formation and growth at (sub)molecular level

Unveiling 2D polymeric film formation and growth at (sub)molecular level

Polymers make up countless objects in our daily lives. From clothing produced with synthetic fibers to eye lenses. Polymers are formed from the reaction and bonding of monomers, but if a reaction is between three monomers simultaneously a film is formed with a periodic internal structure, or in other words a two-dimensional (2D) polymer. Some of them are porous and can be used as membranes, while others show promising properties for advanced electronic applications. However, until the publication of this study, the mechanisms of its formation were not known in detail, an essential issue to allow the production of polymers of larger dimensions and high structural quality.

A team of researchers from KU Leuven (Belgium), POLYMAT and University of the Basque Country (Spain) and UA (Portugal) has gained unprecedented insight into the mechanisms and reactions that lead to the formation of 2D polymers. Experimentally, the researchers used a technique called scanning electron microscopy, a type of non-optical microscopy that can track, in real time as bonds are formed and broken, molecule by molecule, the birth and growth of 2D polymers on a solid support immersed in a reactive solution. Using complex computational models developed at the University of Aveiro, they registered the coexistence of several growth mechanisms that, if controlled, allow the formation of polymeric films of great quality and dimensions.

This work was done in the context of several projects, notably the 2D-INK project of the European Commission's "fostering novel ideas" program ('FET Open'), which ended in 2019 as well as a still active exploratory project associated with Manuel Melle-Franco's broader work, "Graphene for a New Generation of Electronics" (GRAPH-ELE). (IF/00894/2015) funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT).

Manuel Melle-Franco has a degree in Physical Chemistry from the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain, 1996), and holds an MSc in Materials Chemistry (1997) and a Doctorate in Physical Chemistry (2001), both degrees obtained at the University of Kent (UK). He was a researcher in Francesco Zerbetto's group, at the University of Bologna (Italy) and, in Portugal, at the universities of Porto and Minho, currently developing activity at UA (CICECO) as principal researcher coordinating the Computational and Advanced Modulation group. This group uses computational models in complex problems in various fields of knowledge such as Chemistry, Physics, Molecular Biology, Materials Science, and Nanotechnology.

G Zhan et al. Nature 2022, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04409-6.

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