Stephen LoebAn article by chemistry professor Stephen Loeb was named Best Paper of the Year by the Canadian Journal of Chemistry.

Research into stabilizing polymers earns praise for chemistry prof

Stephen Loeb has won the Best Paper of the Year Award from the Canadian Journal of Chemistry for his research investigating how to create protective molecular suits, or jackets, for vulnerable molecules.

When creating new plastics, or synthetic polymers, chemists are sometimes faced with sensitive monomers, or building blocks, that degrade in certain environments. Dr. Loeb, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is working with an interlocked mechanism called a suitane that is designed to protect unstable polymers.

“For example, the durable thermoplastic polyethylene can be used in a range of every day applications — but not every polymer is this stable, “says Loeb, Canada Research Chair in Supramolecular Chemistry and Functional Materials.

“Many important polymeric materials are susceptible to degradation by contact with external reagents such as acids or bases and we are looking to build protective cages for the sensitive building blocks of polymers — like a wire with a plastic coating.”

The winning article, A hydrogen-bonded polymer constructed from mechanically interlocked, suit[1]ane monomers, was written by Loeb and his former post-doctoral fellow Kelong Zhu, who is now a professor at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China.

This protective jacket, says Loeb, builds on his previous research into molecular machines, which can be created by synthetically interlocking molecules together, allowing the molecular components to move about independent of each other.

“This type of 3D molecular structure is an underexplored area of research and only a handful of molecules have been made with this protective suit; this is a young area of science,” says Loeb.

“But if you discovered a useful new molecular building block that needed to be protected, in theory you could put this jacket on and proceed with polymerization.”

—Sara Elliott