Reporter 434, 29 March 1999

Project helps Britain keep up with the polymer pace

A national research network - with the University at its centre - is being set up to help the British polymer industry remain a world leader.

Tom McLeish at the Polymer IRC is co-ordinating the £1.9m effort, which will link research at six universities across the country with industrial partners.

"There has never been a greater pressure on all polymer material sectors to optimise processes and properties to remain competitive,"said Professor McLeish. "British industry asked us to do this."

The project will be looking at different stages in the manufacturing of plastics, which can give a new generation of materials properties including crack-resistance and extra strength.

Like the letters in alphabet soup, the polymers are made of different shaped molecules, and the different combination of 'letters' affects how the plastics flow as a liquid and behave as a solid.

The unusual behaviour of the liquids - they bounce and 'remember' their original form - make them difficult to process, and the project aims to improve the ways in which companies can produce them. Understanding how the polymers flow in their liquid state is crucial to this.

"It's very much a team effort," said Professor McLeish. "The links in the processing chain all need specialist expertise including physicists, chemists, engineers and mathematicians."

Researchers at the universities of Sheffield, Bradford, Durham, Oxford and Cambridge are also involved in the three-year project.

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