Strategies for Next-Generation Functional Polymer Synthesis using Light
The development of new synthetic platforms for the preparation of small molecule and polymeric materials represents a research area of tremendous value for modern day society. Progress in chemical synthesis has enabled innumerable advances in areas ranging from biodegradable plastics to new pharmaceuticals and drug delivery technologies. Importantly, there has been a concerted effort to ensure that many of these novel synthetic processes are realized using “green” methodologies. This includes using non-toxic reagents, readily available solvents and abundant stimuli such as visible light. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of the use of light in chemical synthesis as an enabling platform to unlock exceedingly mild chemical pathways otherwise not accessible using more conventional thermally driven processes. In the context of macromolecular synthesis, light mediated controlled radical polymerization has emerged as a powerful strategy, offering an added dimension of control over reaction kinetics, macromolecular sequence and overall material composition. Herein, I would like to showcase the implementation of light in a few cutting-edge areas of polymer synthesis, including spatial patterning of surface-tethered polymer brushes, facile polymer chain-end modification, easy access to functional semi-fluorinated and degradable polymers, and the synthesis of multifunctional, temperature tunable materials. The aforementioned topics all rely on the simplicity of external regulation using light, and provide proof-of-concept utility that will create both synthetic and application-driven opportunities across the broader chemical sciences.