Polymers through noncovalent bonding
Bouteiller, Laurent Laboratoire de Chimie des Polymères, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France.
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Natural polymers (such as wool, silk, rubber, and cotton) have been used for many centuries, and artificial polymers (such as vulcanized rubber and cellulose nitrate) have been obtained from them since the end of nineteenth century. Synthetic polymers (such as Bakelite or polystyrene) were discovered soon afterward. These materials with remarkable mechanical properties were believed to be made from many small molecules, which somehow aggregated into large structures: colloidal aggregates. It took several decades and the work of pioneers such as H. Staudinger and W. Carothers to prove that polymers are in fact made of extremely large molecules whose repeat units are covalently bonded together. This understanding established an approach to polymer chemistry that has enabled the synthesis and development of a huge variety of polymers, which have effectively changed our lives. At the end of the twentieth century, the new concept emerged of supramolecular polymers, which are self-assembled small molecules (Fig. 1) held together by reversible noncovalent interactions, such as hydrogen bonds, metal-ligand complexation, π–π stacking, and host-guest interactions. It is noteworthy that supramolecular polymers do not comply with Carothers' classical definition of a polymer as a single macromolecule. In fact, they are reminiscent of the nineteenth-century idea of polymers as colloidal aggregates. Nevertheless, supramolecular polymers have a lot in common with their covalent counterparts, and are now accepted as a special type of polymer.
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