The Science

What is frontal polymerization?

Frontal polymerization (FP) is a method of rapidly converting monomer to polymer by propagation of a localized reaction wave.

How does frontal polymerization work?

It’s like a chemical version of dominoes! With dominoes, a small push is enough to make the whole row of dominoes fall over. With frontal polymerization (FP), a small energy input is enough to make an entire container of liquid monomer rapidly transform into a rigid polymer.

Check out the video below to see a test tube of orange liquid monomer being converted into a clear solid polymer before your very eyes!

FP is possible because of the trememdous amount of chemical energy stored in certain monomers. For our research, we focused on FP of  dicyclopentadiene (DCPD)

See below for the chemical reaction that DCPD undergoes. This reaction is called frontal ring-opening metathesis polymerization, or FROMP for short. As reported in Nature, we recently developed a method to stabilize the FROMP reaction to enable 3D printing, patterning, and manufacture of fiber reinforced composite components.

FP offers the potential to save a tremendous amount of time and energy for manufacturing polymer and composite materials. Our research shows that we can reduce the energy consumed per unit volume for manufacturing a composite part for an airplane fuselage by up to 10 billion times, while simultaneously reducing the manufacturing time by up to 100 times!