Two scientists have won US$305,800 for using organic chemistry to control the structure, composition and properties of polymers.
Their work allows polymers to be custom-built for various applications — for example, plastic solar cells, drug-delivery devices, paints, adhesives and lubricants.
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 Prize for Science.
In traditional plastics 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 scientists' polymer research is used in laboratories and factories of more than 60 companies globally, including major brands like DuPont, L'Oréal and IBM. Their work is integral to more than 500 patents.
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.
Craig Hawker, director of the Materials Research Laboratory at the University of California in Santa Barbara, said their discovery 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,” he said. “I see no limits to what can come from this work.”