The advanced liquid handling robotics for synthesizing novel synthetic polymers. Photo: Matthew Tamasi.
The advanced liquid handling robotics for synthesizing novel synthetic polymers. Photo: Matthew Tamasi.

A team led by engineers at Rutgers University has developed an automated way to produce polymers, making it much easier to create advanced materials aimed at improving human health. The engineers report their advance in a paper in Advanced Intelligent Systems.

This innovation is a critical step in enhancing the abilities of researchers to explore large libraries of polymers, including plastics and fibers, for chemical and biological applications such as drugs and regenerative medicine through tissue engineering. While a human researcher may be able to make a few polymers a day, the new automated system – featuring custom software and a liquid-handling robot – can create up to 384 different polymers at once, a huge increase over current methods.

Synthetic polymers are widely used to produce advanced materials with special properties, and their continued development is crucial to new technologies in fields such as diagnostics, medical devices, electronics, sensors, robots and lighting.

"Typically, researchers synthesize polymers in highly controlled environments, limiting the development of large libraries of complex materials," said senior author Adam Gormley, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. "By automating polymer synthesis and using a robotic platform, it is now possible to rapidly create a multitude of unique materials."

Robotics has automated many methods for making novel materials, as well as for discovering and developing novel drugs. But synthesizing polymers remains challenging, because most chemical reactions are extremely sensitive to oxygen, requiring it to be removed during production. The Gormley lab's open-air robotics platform carries out polymer synthesis reactions that can tolerate oxygen.

The group developed custom software that allows a liquid handling robot to interpret polymer designs made by a computer and carry out every step of the chemical reaction, thereby making it easier for non-experts to create novel polymers.

This story is adapted from material from Rutgers University, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.