Imagine polymers where the surfaces would be designed to be markedly different from the polymer interior--where different layers would have different purposes. That's the future foreseen by Christopher K. Ober, associate professor of materials science and engineering in the College of Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
"This has possible applications for biotechnology, sensor development, even smart surfaces," Ober notes. He cites the possibility of producing microelectronic sensors directly from a complex polymer in a single processing step. By controlling the molecular geometry of the polymer, researchers are beginning to achieve complexity comparable to biological systems. He says it could make possible a superstrong polymer with a water-repellent surface that could be used for an airplane wing that doesn't ice up.