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Press Release 12-193
Advancing Materials Research

First awards granted for the NSF Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future (DMREF) program

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Photomicrograph of a sandwich of polymers created by combining PEG and polydimethlsiloxane.

DMREF is intended to dramatically speed up the development and application of new materials. This image, recognized in the 2008 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, is an example of fundamental materials research. Combining of polyethylene glycol (PEG) and polydimethylsiloxane creates what Ye Jin "Jenna" Eun calls a "sandwich of polymers." But when the University of Wisconsin, Madison, doctoral student added water to her creation, it was clear the union of these polymers didn't emulate peanut butter and jelly's happy marriage. PEG wants to expand when it encounters water, but the stiffer polyethylene copolymer won't permit it. So PEG stretches vertically instead, creating the hills and valleys seen here. The contortions make the polymer combo unusable for the original purpose: mounting cell samples. But Eun, who works under the direction of biochemist Douglas Weibel, says the result of the failed experiment was so beautiful, she photographed the image. She used a Zeiss stereoscope and a Nikon CCD camera.

This image was tied for Honorable Mention in the Photography category of the 2008 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. The competition is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the journal Science. More on the International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge is available at the competition website. (Date of Image: 2008)

Credit: Ye Jin Eun and Douglas B. Weibel, University of Wisconsin, Madison

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