Generating chemical fingerprints of polymers

Shoes, clothes, bottles, computers, pens, balloons, plastic chairs, and countless other objects we use every day either contain polymers or are made up of them.

Ruchi Pal, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, is working on a system that will hopefully generate chemical fingerprints of polymers, so that we can use them more effectively!

A polymer is a substance that has a molecular structure built up chiefly or completely from a large number of similar units bonded together. It forms a part of a wide variety of technologically important materials. The properties of these materials depend on their micro- and nano-structures, and the study of this structure-property correlation is critical to understanding polymers.

Ruchi, whose project is sponsored by SABIC, plans to analyse polymeric systems using Electron Energy Loss Spectroscopy (EELS) in conjunction with a Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM).

She is the first to admit that understanding the intricacies of EELS is a huge challenge but is optimistic about her chances. “Electron Energy Loss Spectroscopy has been used as a supporting characterisation technique in different polymer systems, but its potential has not been tapped completely,” she explains. “TEM is an efficient characterisation technique but polymers are beam-sensitive materials, and this makes using TEM challenging. Besides, the chemical make-up of polymers consists of light elements showing poor contrast in TEM. We hope to generate chemical fingerprints of polymers, as the chemical information that EELS can provide along with the high spatial resolution within a TEM is unmatched.”

The IITB-Monash Research Academy is a collaboration between India and Australia that endeavours to strengthen scientific relationships between the two countries. Graduate research scholars like Ruchi study for a dually-badged PhD from both IIT Bombay and Monash University, spending time at both institutions to enrich their research experience.

Says Prof Murali Sastry, CEO of the Academy, “The area of research that Ruchi has chosen is arduous and promising in equal measure. We wish her well, for this project has the potential to lead to a better understanding of the nano- and micro-structures of polymer-based systems!”

Research scholar: Ruchi Pal, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Analysis of polymers by electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS)

Supervisors: Prof Jayesh R Bellare, Dr Alison M Funston, Dr Kei Saito

Industry Mentor: Dr Arun Sikder from SABIC

Contact details: ruchi.8118@gmail.com

This story was written by Mr Krishna Warrier based on inputs from the research student, his supervisors and IITB-Monash Research Academy. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.