Optimization of mechanical properties and manufacturing techniques to enable shape-memory polymer processing

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Voit, Walter Everett
Gall, Ken
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This research investigates the synthesis and manufacture of shape-memory polymer (SMP) systems for use in biomedical and commodity applications. The research centers on improving the mechanical properties of thermoset acrylate copolymers with memory properties at reasonable cost through various design and manufacturing techniques: high-strain polymer synthesis and radiation crosslinking. The research assesses combinations of linear monomers and a low density of crosslinker to characterize new functional materials and optimize emerging mechanical properties such as the glass transition temperature (Tg) and rubbery modulus (ER). Exploring materials with large recoverable strains, a model copolymer of photo-polymerized methyl acrylate (MA), isobornyl acrylate and crosslinker bisphenol A ethoxylate dimethacrylate was shown to strain above 800%, twice the previously published value for SMPs, and recover fully. In the quest to maximize fully recoverable strains, a new hybrid molecule nicknamed Xini, which serves as both an initiator and a crosslinker, was also theorized, synthesized, polymerized into SMP networks and characterized. In the past, thermoset SMPs were made into complex shapes using expensive top-down techniques. A block of polymer was made and custom machining was required to craft complex parts. This prohibited devices in cost-competitive commodity application spaces. This research has proposed and validated a new method for accurately tuning the thermomechanical properties of network acrylates with shape-memory properties: Mnemosynation, eponymously named for the Greek goddess of memory. This novel manufacturing process imparts long term 'memory' on an otherwise amorphous thermoplastic material utilizing radiation-induced covalent crosslinking, and can be likened to Vulcanization, which imparts strength on natural rubber utilizing sulfur crosslinks. Adjustment of ER in the range from below 1 MPa to above 13 MPa has been demonstrated. ER was tailored by varying both radiation dose between 5 and 300 kGy and crosslinker concentration between 1.00 and 25.0 wt%. Tg manipulation was demonstrated between 23 ˚C and 70 ˚C. Mnemosynation combines advances in radiation grafting and acrylic SMP synthesis to enable both traditional plastics processing (blow molding, injection molding, etc.) and control of thermoset shape-memory properties. Combining advances in both high strain polymer synthesis and radiation crosslinking, a new paradigm in SMP composites manufacture-namely, that materials can be designed to enhance strain capacity at moderate stress, rather than maximum strength-was established. Various fibers with very different mechanical properties were impregnated with SMPs and thermo-mechanically assessed to develop an understanding of the technical parameters necessary to craft self-adjusting, multi-actuated, SMP-fiber composite orthopedic casts. This exploration syncs with the overarching aim of the research, which is to understand the fundamental scientific drivers necessary to enable new devices mass-manufactured from acrylate copolymers and optimize their emerging mechanical properties.
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