PerspectiveMaterials Science

Polymers Find Plenty of Wiggle Room at the Bottom

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Science  20 Sep 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6152, pp. 1351-1352
DOI: 10.1126/science.1244110

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In his 1959 lecture “There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” Richard Feynman discussed the prospects of developing future nanoscale technologies (1). There, he stated that the homogeneous properties of amorphous plastics and glasses would render them the materials of choice for such applications. Today, polymeric materials—particularly glassy, noncrystalline polymers—do play a key role in the manufacturing sector, but these tend to be bulk materials. Realizing Feynman's vision of nanomachines based on polymers would require an understanding of the properties of polymeric materials as they are shrunk to comprise a few or even single polymer chains. But the characterization of such nanoscopic amounts of material, and how they may differ (or not) from the bulk, remains a challenging and controversial area. On page 1371 of this issue, Tress et al. (2) have developed a technique using a nanoelectrode and broadband dielectric spectroscopy (BDS) to characterize tiny volumes of polymers and isolated polymer chains. Their results lead to the remarkable conclusion that the glassy dynamics of an isolated polymer chain is identical to that seen in the bulk.