Breakthroughs in Ionic Polymer Characterization
Research led by ALERT investigator Prof. Louisa Hope-Weeks at Texas Tech University, could make the sensitive materials used in detonators safer for mining and military use, as well as less harmful to the environment. Ionic polymers, the class of materials the group works with, are less toxic but more unstable compared to the heavy metals used in current commercial detonators. By understanding the structures of the materials, Hope-Weeks and her group can then develop associated compounds to make the polymers more stable and a more viable option for use.
Currently, explosives used in the field are lead-based, causing detonations to have a huge environmental impact. Hope-Weeks states that the purpose of this research is, “similar to if you take lead out of paint. We are trying to replace lead-based energetic materials with greener compounds” The complexity of the problem is that the researchers are looking at ways to keep power output the same, but to lower the sensitivity of the polymers. The current compound is too sensitive for common use and requires further evolution to become less shock sensitive to make sure the item doesn’t react until a true signal is sent.
“We wanted to make an optically activated material,” explains Hope-Weeks, “so that if, for example, a bomb squad wanted to blow up a car they suspect has a terrorist device inside, they would have something they could remotely place under the car and then activate it with a laser, rather than someone having to go in there and wire it up.” The added benefit of this new lead-free device would be that it’s green; thus, causing less of a long-term impact on the environment.
The long-term goal of the work is to make an optically activated material where lasers could be used to activate the explosive from a far distance and eliminate the need for a person to have to wire the charge.