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  1. Management of the plastic industry is a momentous challenge, one that pits enormous societal benefits against an accumulating reservoir of nearly indestructible waste. A promising strategy for recycling polyethylene (PE) and isotactic polypropylene ( i PP), constituting roughly half the plastic produced annually worldwide, is melt blending for reformulation into useful products. Unfortunately, such blends are generally brittle and useless due to phase separation and mechanically weak domain interfaces. Recent studies have shown that addition of small amounts of semicrystalline PE- i PP block copolymers (ca. 1 wt%) to mixtures of these polyolefins results in ductility comparable to the pure materials. However, current methods for producing such additives rely on expensive reagents, prohibitively impacting the cost of recycling these inexpensive commodity plastics. Here, we describe an alternative strategy that exploits anionic polymerization of butadiene into block copolymers, with subsequent catalytic hydrogenation, yielding E and X blocks that are individually melt miscible with PE and i PP, where E and X are poly(ethylene- ran -ethylethylene) random copolymers with 6 wt% and 90 wt% ethylethylene repeat units, respectively. Cooling melt blended mixtures of PE and i PP containing 1 wt% of the triblock copolymer EXE of appropriate molecular weight, results in mechanical properties competitive with the component plastics. Blend toughness is obtained through interfacial topological entanglements of the amorphous X polymer and semicrystalline i PP, along with anchoring of the E blocks through cocrystallization with the PE homopolymer. Significantly, EXE can be inexpensively produced using currently practiced industrial scale polymerization methods, offering a practical approach to recycling the world’s top two plastics. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 22, 2024
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  4. A series of model poly((±)-lactide) (PLA) graft copolymers was synthesized by ring-opening metathesis polymerization and used to probe the star-to-bottlebrush transition in shear and extensional flows. Ten samples with backbone degrees of polymerization 11 ≤ Nbb ≤ 420 were investigated using small-amplitude oscillatory shear (SAOS) and extensional rheometry measurements. Each contained one PLA side chain of length Nsc = 72 per two backbone repeating units on average (graft density of z = 0.5). The star-like to bottlebrush transition was identified at Nbb = 50–69 using SAOS. In extension, melt strain hardening is absent in the star-like melts (Nbb ≤ 50) but is prominent in the bottlebrush limit (Nbb > 69). The onset of melt strain hardening occurs at a time scale equivalent to the Rouse time of the backbone. A molecular interpretation of these results builds upon recent conjectures related to strain-induced increases in interchain friction in bottlebrush polymers. These findings will be useful in designing bottlebrush melts that strain harden, which is critical in various types of processing methods involving extensional flows, including foaming, 3D printing, and film-blowing. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2024
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  6. Self-consistent field theory is employed to compute the phase behavior of binary blends of conformationally asymmetric, micelle-forming diblock copolymers with miscible corona blocks and immiscible core blocks (a diblock copolymer “alloy”). The calculations focus on establishing conditions that promote the formation of Laves phases by tuning the relative softness of the cores of the two different Laves phase particles via independent control of their conformational asymmetries. Increasing the conformational asymmetry of the more spherical particles of the Laves structure has a stabilizing effect, consistent with the expectations of increased imprinting of the Wigner–Seitz cells on the core/corona interface as conformational asymmetry increases. The resulting phase diagram in the temperature-blend composition space features a more stable Laves phase field than that predicted for conformationally symmetric systems. The phase field closes at low temperatures in favor of macrophase separation between a hexagonally-packed cylinder (hex) phase and a body-centered cubic phase. Companion calculations, using an alloy whose components do not produce a hex phase in the neat melt state, suggest that the Laves phase field in such a blend will persist at strong segregation. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 21, 2023
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