New research paves way for ‘perfect plastic’

Researchers at Durham University and the University of Leeds claim to have cracked the DNA code of plastic – a move they believe will revolutionise the way the material is developed in the future.

According to lead researcher Dr Daniel Read, from the University of Leeds' School of Mathematics, the breakthrough will allow manufacturers to create the 'perfect plastic' with specific uses and properties, by using what he describes as a 'high tech recipe book'. "Up until now, industry developed a plastic then found a use for it, or tried hundreds of different 'recipes' to see which worked," he noted. "This method could save the manufacturing industry time, energy and money." The mathematical models used by Read and his team put together two pieces of computer code. The first predicts how polymers will flow based on the connections between the string-like molecules they are made from. The second predicts the shapes that these molecules will take when they are created at a chemical level. "After years of trying different chemical recipes and finding only a very few provide useable products, this new science provides industry with a toolkit to bring new materials to market faster and more efficiently," stated Professor Tom McLeish, pro-vice chancellor for research at Durham University. Prof McLeish went on to suggest that the trial and error phase in developing new plastics could now be bypassed. He said: "By changing two or three numbers in the computer code, we can adapt all the predictions for new bio-polymer sources. "This is a wonderful outcome of years of work by this extraordinary team. It's a testimony to the strong collaborative ethos of the UK research groups and global companies involved." The findings of the Microscale Polymer Processing project have been published in the journal Science.