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USC, DuPont Agree on RAFT Technology

University News - Research

COLUMBIA, SC – The University of South Carolina has reached an agreement with DuPont Intellectual Assets & Licensing (DuPont) pertaining to the development of new materials utilizing a breakthrough technique in preparing polymers and polymer nanocomposites. The technique employs Reversible Addition Fragmentation Chain Transfer polymerization (RAFT technology).

RAFT technology is a living radical polymerization process and a powerful method that allows unprecedented control of molecular weight and polymer structure to enable users to tailor polymer properties. Invented by CSIRO and developed in partnership with DuPont, the utility of the technology has led to more than 200 patents. CSIRO and DuPont have an active technology transfer and licensing program for the CSIRO/DuPont patent portfolio.

The agreement with DuPont allows the university to team up with interested companies as it works to find polymers and nanocomposites with enhanced capabilities not found in today's materials.

“I think this is the first step to a lot of potential partnerships and the start of many new opportunities,” said Dr. Brian Benicewicz, Center of Economic Excellence chair and research leader of Polymer NanoComposites at USC and a professor in the university’s department of chemistry and biochemistry. “We are the first university in the U.S. to get a license to not only research and use this technology, but also to work with third parties to develop possible commercial applications for this technology.”

“We are excited about the research license agreement with USC,” said Charles D. Murray, managing director, DuPont Intellectual Assets & Licensing business. “We believe that by expanding the university’s rights to conduct research and to team with interested companies, we will realize substantial commercial licensing opportunities as companies identify exciting commercial opportunities.”

Benicewicz said the agreement will make it easier for USC to move technology from university research labs to the marketplace. He said he is already talking to companies, including some in South Carolina that may find this powerful technology useful.

“Under the terms of our agreement with DuPont, the work to look for new applications is now being done here at USC, so that puts us in a wonderful position,” he said.

Benicewicz and his team are researching ways to influence molecular variables of polymer chains. With more precision, scientists can better control the chain’s structure and behavior, creating opportunities to control polymer properties, such as elasticity, conductivity, hardness and scratch resistance.

“New properties are what companies are looking for since this is what really sells in the marketplace,” Benicewicz said.

RAFT technology, developed in the 1990s by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, and developed in partnership with DuPont, has transformed the way polymer science is being done. As the underpinning for Benicewicz’s polymer nanocomposites work during the past 10 years, RAFT technology offers a different way to synthesize polymers, providing researchers with a high level of precision and control.

“This opened a window on the chemistry that we couldn't do before by offering exquisite control over the method to make new polymers on nanoparticle surfaces,” Benicewicz said. “This enables us to work in many areas – such as optical, mechanical and biological using the same molecular ‘toolbox.’ We have devoted a lot of effort into developing the toolbox and are now ready to build many new nanostructures.”

“If you want something more durable or electrically conducting or resistant to bacterial infections, you design that through control of the polymer structure. This high level of precision allows us to create such properties or combinations of properties. It opened up a design window that hasn't existed previously,” he said. “If you can control the structure and the properties, you can design for broad applications.”

Polymers are compounds consisting of large molecules arranged in a chain of repeating molecular units. Polymer composites are polymers that have been reinforced, giving them added strength. Polymer nanocomposites – the area where Benicewicz's research has focused – represent a new class of materials with plenty of possibilities for future application.

Benicewicz, who joined USC in 2008, holds the Center of Economic Excellence chair in polymer nanocomposite research. His work focuses on precisely controlled polymerizations for designed interfaces in polymer nanocomposites.

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