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Polymer Science Centre

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The Polymer Science Centre is a member of this programme

The project work plan has the following specific objectives:
To network at European level with Partners/Labs experts on characterization of polymer nanostructured materials, facilitating transnational access to important and unique equipment for academic researchers and SMEs technologists.
The key issues of the project are networking of European research on issues related to characterization methodologies for polymer nanostructures, to stimulate research in this field that is essential for gaining leadership in the competitive global nanotechnology market. Only with appropriate tools and competences to characterize and investigate matter at nanoscale level it becomes possible not only to image a surface with atomic resolution but also to manipulate matter to atomic or molecular level and to understand the relationships among structure and properties. The design of nanostructured polymers with desired properties, tailored to specific technological applications, is a big challenge for scientists. These properties are more significant, and often counterintuitive, in comparison to conventional macroscopic composites, result from collective intermolecular interactions and processes, and cannot be predicted a priori. To master polymer nanotechnology physics and chemistry numerous and complementary methodologies are required. Moreover, in the field of nanoscience where the body of knowledge increases continuously, the characterization methodologies and the relative competence, to be in step, must constantly up-grade. The access to advanced and up-graded characterization methods constitutes an important barrier for scientists and SMEs technologists for the development and industrial application of these materials. NaPolyNet will demolish this barrier by creating a coordination of advanced equipment and expertise for nanomaterials characterization at European level, setting up of a European Open Laboratory networking the best and novel characterization methodologies and expertises that the partners will provide to others for access. The Laboratory, open to outside the consortium partners, will be the base of the mobility and training activities planned in this project with the final aim to develop novel methodologies for design and characterization of polymeric nanocomposites taking mainly into consideration the processing-structure, the structure-dynamics-properties relationships and the role of interface behavior for nanocomposites. It will also facilitate the access to important and unique equipment during the project life and after its closure. To make the EOL practically accessible to a wider public, in the web site of the project a portal will be dedicated to EOL, with practical information about equipment available, their potentiality and the modalities to access them and the relative experts. The researchers belonging to the consortium have large and well-recognized skills at international level in all field of analysis and characterization of structural, morphological physical, thermal, mechanical and processing properties of polymer nanomaterials. With these competencies the nanopolymeric materials can be studied at all hierarchical scales of organization, mastering the phenomena involved in phase transitions and structural development (e.g. solidification, vitrification and/or crystallization, formation of nanostructured phases, gelation) as well as the interfacial interactions including orientation effects of the nanodomains according to preferred patterns due to the processing conditions imposed.

To bridge the gap between scientific and engineering approaches towards improved understanding of the structure-performance correlation in polymer devices.
It is generally accepted that a better understanding of the structure-property relationships, i.e. of the relationships between composition, processing, structure/morphology, dynamics and properties, is a necessary condition for optimizing the design of polymer nanostructured materials with predicted properties. Moreover many new characterization techniques are not well known or are not affordable for SMEs. There is a lack of knowledge transfer from the scientific community to the SMEs and a need of tailored interfaces to translate quickly the research results on characterization methods into usable tools adequate to be used by industries and especially by SMEs. NaPolyNet with the specific activities planned (the Round Table dedicated to SMEs, the Technological Seminars, as well as the setting of EOL that will facilitate access to unique equipments) will serve as instrument to bridge the gap between scientific and industrial world. This will allow nanomaterial producers to be aware of the state of art in characterization tools for polymer nanostructured materials with the verification and validation of new methods of characterization and exploration of standardization needs in the field of membranes, packaging and textiles that cover almost the 80% of all polymer nanomaterials. One of the specific requirement of SMEs involved in the project is to determine standard conditions of testing and characterization of polymer nanostructures and then to define the best possible lab practice. The participation of 5 partners, from the industrial world, demonstrates the interests of the industry in the project. The new instrument, research and development phase standardization developed by partner 14, which allows developing standardization services and products rapidly available to researchers and producers will give a great contribution to achieve this objective. Also the dissemination plan of project activities and results, assured by all partners through the publications of scientific articles in appropriate journals, communications during conference and the proceedings of the training courses, technological seminars and the international workshops and through the project website, will contribute to achieve the objectives.

To make available the latest experimental and theoretical strategies and routines to produce reliable data on nanostructured materials and to correctly interpret them.
Access to several traditional characterization methods is commonly possible for academic and industrial researchers. Nevertheless the intensive research in the field of polymer nanostructured materials of the last years has open new questions and new tasks; in particular there is a lack of information to allow researchers to become aware of the newest development of characterization tool. With the presence of nanoparticles the already complex behaviour of polymer materials becomes even more complex and not only the composition and the kind of nanoparticles must be taken into account, but also the spatial arrangement of the nanofillers and the induced orientation of the crystals and nanofillers as function also of processing condition  and finally the influence of these nanoparticles on the polymer matrix. These characteristics determine the final properties of the material.  In the case of crystallisable polymers nanomaterials, for example, crystal nucleation of the matrix crystals is crucial because of the nucleation ability of some nanoparticles on one hand and of the reduced number of heterogeneous nuclei in nanosized phase separated materials on the other hand. The later may result in homogeneous nucleation yielding different materials compared to heterogeneous nucleated ones. In order to overcome this limitation and also on the base of the report of needs of the industrial partners involved, the project will make available, where possible,  the required measurement strategies and routines including the ones that are at the moment in a developing stage. This will allow average trained users of characterization equipment to produce reliable data on nanostructured polymer materials and correctly interpret them with the final aim to monitor and control the material final properties. For the calorimetric characterization the project will focus on making available the developing methodologies for determination of quantitative heat capacity and heat of fusion data which, for example, can be used for a more detailed characterization of polymer inorganic nanocomposites as shown in (22). Moreover methods based on fast [11] and ultrafast [24] calorimetry will be developed and made available to study polymer crystallization under conditions, e.g. processing conditions by heterogeneous as well as homogeneous nucleation. Practical data listing the needed cooling rates to reach homogeneous nucleation for different technologically important polymers and their nanocomposites obtained at the partner lab will be placed on the web page together with the instruction to how determine fractions of different mobility in nanostructured polymer materials.   For the structural, morphological and spectroscopic characterization it will be show how to combine and complement the DSC data with data obtained using X-ray diffraction techniques in the small and wide angle (SAXS-WAXS), microscopic techniques  (TEM, SEM, AFM, OM)  and broadband dielectric spectroscopy (BDS). This will provide to obtain information concerning the nature of crystalline entities present in the samples, the crystal size dimension, the lamellar stack periodicity (if present), and in industrial manufactures nanocomposites, the kind of preferred orientation of the crystal and nanofillers as a function of processing conditions, polymer dynamics, and its temperature dependence in the interfacial layer, quantified in terms of (1) the thickness of the interfacial layer  and (2) the glass transition temperature or distribution of glass transition temperatures in the interfacial layer. For the mechanical characterization a crucial issue still remains, namely the accurate measurement of deformation that is not distributed homogeneously along the specimen gauge length. The non-contact method in a developing stage likely will permit accurate deformation measurement in specific zones of 1 mm long, along the total gauge length. Apart from this, accurate measurement of the lateral strain based on a laser-extensometer technique, leading to the calculation of Poisson's ratio, is also available.  Effects such as necking, often appearing in polymeric materials and polymer nanocomposites, can be then faced with this method, which permits the calculation of the real cross-section of the specimen, and therefore leads to the calculation of the true stress-strain curves. Moreover, the method can be applied to creep testing, which is widely used for nanostructured polymers, whose creep behavior may be strongly affected by the presence of nanosized fillers. In this frame, a detailed procedure for the most reliable determination of the time evolution of strain, construction of true stress-strain curves, and quantitative determination of all material elastic parameters will be provided. The project will make available instructions on how to model the response of polymer nanocomposites to the different tests and to obtain prevision on the material performances using various theories and models. For example in the case of polymer nanomaterials to be used in the membranes field, molecular modelling used to obtain a deeper understanding on the relations between molecular structure-transport/barrier properties  and to get a detailed insight in transport and other (e.g. mechanical, biocompatibility, controlled release) properties for polymer and block-copolymers will be provided. The presence in the consortium of partner 14 working in contact with all the academic and industrial partners will favorite the submission of proposals for standard reference materials for the determination of fractions of different mobility in complex nanostructured materials by calorimetry and BDS for a correct and complete interpretation of diffraction data from standard SAXS-WAXS measurements and for experimental stabilization of universal criteria for membrane.

iv. To provide practical demonstrations of the new methodologies for scientists, technologists and SMEs producers. Characterization of polymer nanostructure requires a high degree of interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary co-operation and communication. This is due to the fact that at nanoscale level the expertise of researchers in physics, chemistry, biology and engineering is complementary. Its multidisciplinary nature makes a challenging field for recruiting and training the technical force that is needed and for educating the public as to its significance for the increase of attractiveness of research careers for young scientists  offering also better job opportunities. The multidisciplinarity of the project and the training ambitions clearly necessitate the broad inter-disciplinarity network of the project by gathering specialists from different domains. Young scientists and technologists will be trained to be skilled in all the possible aspects of polymer nanostructures and thus correctly judge the advantages of polymer nanostructures for a given problem and subsequently to implement them. A Demonstration Course and Short Demonstration Visits are planned. The courses will be centred on the theoretical and practical concepts on characterization of polymer nanostructures for packaging, membranes and textiles. Internationally-recognized top-researchers, specialized in a specific field will be invited. The lectures will include where possible  practical demonstration.  The course is followed by a round table dedicated to SMEs. The participants will receive also complementary information including introduction to ethics, social aspects concerning the implications of polymer nanostructure in health and environment, managerial skills, intellectual properties aspects and technological exploitations.The project will promote educational opportunities in Europe in this field also through the Short Demonstration visits (SDV) that will be held at EOL locations. The Demo visit aims at giving an overview of a range of methods and their limitations for structural, chemical and physical characterisation techniques, providing an insight into the practical aspects and allow hands-on experience. The grantees will learn the underlying principles of the characterization procedure and instruments, understand their power and limitations on the nanometre scale. These visits will therefore enable scientists and SMEs engineers to update and develop the skill going deeper into processing-structure-property relationships of polymer nanostructured materials and to combine science with technology. They will also enable transnational access to advanced equipment for study and characterization of nanomaterials.

To harmonise work for new standards in the field of characterization of polymer nanostructures and to manage the health and safety implications of polymer nanostructures.
Standardization of nanotechnology is of significant importance for policy makers developing regulatory frameworks in government departments as well as for nanotechnology industries/enterprises. Unique and especially valuable is the multidisciplinary methodology for testing all materials on the nanoscale to evaluate the potential for human exposure. It is the latest objective of the project to stimulate research that is essential for gaining leadership in the competitive global nanotechnology market. The scope of the proposed collaboration/network embraces all agreed aspects of science and technology concerned with advanced materials, including materials technology, test methods, design methods and materials databases. Consequently, we expect that this collaboration between research groups, and nanocomposites producers and experts in issues on standardization and ethics can lead to the identification of specific areas which need new, validated test methods and design methods adapted to the capabilities of the industry. This input would stimulate our research efforts towards the contribution in the development of standardized characterization methods providing experimental data, up-to-date measurement techniques, test methods and reference materials. Appropriate standardization of characterization methods can vitally contribute to effective dissemination of new knowledge, turning scientific curiosities into industrial powerhouses. With the rapid development of nanotechnology and its applications, a wide variety of nanostructured materials are now used in several commodities. While nanoscale materials possess more novel and unique physicochemical properties than bulk materials, they also have an unpredictable impact on human health. The unique feature of this project is the focus on translating research into interim guidance for exposure assessment, exposure minimization, and other fundamental practices, while research progresses. The project aims at addressing all those points in the field of polymer nanostructured materials and, thus, fills the knowledge gap concerning risks from nanotechnology, the impact of nanomaterials on the human body, their interactions with biological systems, providing up-to-date information on the potential toxicological effects and safety evaluation of polymer nanostructured materials on human health for a wide audience and their risk assessments.




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