A rational strategy for the realization of chain-growth supramolecular polymerization

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Science  06 Feb 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6222, pp. 646-651
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa4249

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Popping open one by one into polymers

We rarely board airplanes by joining the back of a single well-ordered line. More often, we jostle around in one of several bulging crowds that merge haphazardly near the gate. Roughly speaking, these processes are analogous to the chain growth and step growth mechanisms of polymer assembly at the molecular level. Kang et al. present a strategy to link molecular building blocks through hydrogen bonding in accord with the well-controlled chain growth model. The molecules start out curled inward, as they engage in internal hydrogen bonding, until an initiator pulls one open; that molecule is then in the right conformation to pull a partner into the growing chain, poising it to pull in yet another, and so forth down the line.

Science, this issue p. 646


Over the past decade, major progress in supramolecular polymerization has had a substantial effect on the design of functional soft materials. However, despite recent advances, most studies are still based on a preconceived notion that supramolecular polymerization follows a step-growth mechanism, which precludes control over chain length, sequence, and stereochemical structure. Here we report the realization of chain-growth polymerization by designing metastable monomers with a shape-promoted intramolecular hydrogen-bonding network. The monomers are conformationally restricted from spontaneous polymerization at ambient temperatures but begin to polymerize with characteristics typical of a living mechanism upon mixing with tailored initiators. The chain growth occurs stereoselectively and therefore enables optical resolution of a racemic monomer.

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