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Better electrified plastic

Researchers are developing a new plastic that conducts electricity, may be simpler to manufacture than industry counterparts, and which easily accommodates chemical attachments to create new materials.

Oligotron polymers, developed by TDA Research, Wheat Ridge, Colo. (, are made of tiny bits of material that possess a conducting center and two, nonconducting end pieces. The end pieces let the plastic bits dissolve in solvents and accommodate specialized molecules.

The new polymers get around a problem with existing conductive plastics. Conducting polymers created so far are not soluble in liquids, and couldn't be manufactured as easily as their common counterparts used in pop bottles and synthetic fibers. Recently, a water-soluble conducting polymer was developed called Pedot (polyethylenedioxythiophene). Only problem: Water corrodes device parts during manufacturing.

Oligotron contains a Pedot center, but is soluble in noncorrosive chemicals and can attach new compounds to its end pieces. For example, researchers have proposed end pieces that convert solar energy into electricity, creating a novel solar-cell material.

Oligotron also has special properties that let it be printed into various shapes. When researchers shine a pattern of ultraviolet light, such as a complex circuit image, onto a film of dissolved Oligotron, the exposed areas of plastic become fixed similar to a photograph. The circuit is flexible, lightweight, and functional.

The conducting polymers could be manufactured in shapes to create fabrics that transmit data and incredibly thin video displays. Researchers predict applications that range from flexible television displays and smart cards to antistatic treatments and conducting fabrics.

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