MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (Oct. 17, 2:15 p.m. ET) — Two Australian scientists have won US$305,800 for using organic chemistry to control the structure, composition and properties of polymers.
Their work allows plastics to be custom-built.
Italian-born Professor Ezio Rizzardo, from the Melbourne-based Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), and Professor David Solomon, from the University of Melbourne, won the prestigious Prime Minister's 2011 Prize for Science.
The prize is awarded annually for important contributions scientists make to Australia's current and future scientific capabilities.
In traditional plastic production, the reaction that creates compounds tends to be rapid and uncontrollable. But Solomon and Rizzardo discovered a way to regulate the speed at which polymer molecules combine.
The process allows plastics and other polymers to be “custom-built” for various applications, for example, plastic solar cells, drug delivery, paints, adhesives and lubricants.
The scientists' polymer research is used in laboratories and factories of more than 60 companies globally, including major brands like DuPont, L'Oréal, IBM, and Dulux.
Their work has been cited more than 12,000 times in scientific literature and is integral to more than 500 patents.
Solomon and Rizzardo analyzed the construction of polymers and discovered a way to stop the polymerization reaction after just two or three molecular links have formed, allowing them to control the speed of polymerization and regulate the polymer's content and structure.
The pair patented the process in 1985 and in 1990 their paper about the process became one of the most widely cited in polymer chemistry.
Professor Craig Hawker, director of the Materials Research Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said their discoveries transformed traditional polymer applications.
“It is rewriting the book on polymer synthesis, and dramatically impacting many diverse and important areas of academic and industrial research. I see no limits to what can come from this work and am very proud to say it is home-grown Australian science.”