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Using Biodegradable Polymer Experiments To Examine Structure Function Relationships

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Crossing the Discipline Divide!

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.1401.1 - 10.1401.6



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Paper Authors

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Dana Warren

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Abolghasem Shahbazi

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Jianzhong Lou

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Using Biodegradable Polymer Experiments to Examine Structure-Function Relationships Keith A. Schimmel, Jianzhong Lou, Dana M. Warren, Ghasem Shahbazi North Carolina A&T State University

I. Introduction Polymers are used widely in modern society because they are light in weight, low in cost, and easy to process materials. However, there is an increasing and global-scale concern over the environmental consequences of products made of polymers when they eventually end up in landfills after their intended uses. Polymers derived from agricultural feedstock can be biodegradable and play a role in helping alleviate the environmental concerns. Biodegradable polymers have a wide range of potential applications in markets currently dominated by petroleum-based materials such as drug delivery systems, flushable diapers, controlled release systems for agricultural chemicals, disposable nonwovens, horticultural containers, washable paints, and lubricants.1

Most natural polymers, such as starch, cellulose, and proteins are readily biodegradable through hydrolysis followed by oxidation with the aid of enzymes. Synthetic polymers may attain biodegradability by incorporating hydrolyzable linkages in their backbones. Aliphatic polyesters have been known to be the most easily biodegradable synthetic polymers. Important examples of synthetic biodegradable polymers of industrial scale include polyvinyl alcohols, polycaprolactones (such as Tone polymer by former Union Carbide)2, and polylactic acid (pioneered by Argonne National Laboratories). Although there are issues related to both cost and monomer supplies, development of lactic acid based biodegradable polymers appears to be most active, and a number of commercial projects are under way.

While there has been a lot of research on biodegradable polymers and increasing commercialization of biodegradable polymers, the availability of educational materials on this important subject are disproportionate to other areas of polymer education.3 There is an increasing demand for skills in this area from companies involved in the research and product development activities of this class of polymers.4-6 Therefore, a biodegradable polymer laboratory unit has been developed that has several educational objectives. First, students learn general polymer science principles such as structure-property relationships. Secondly, students learn about various chemical and physical polymer characterization methods. Additionally, students are directly exposed to the environmental issues associated with polymer materials along with the variables controlling the kinetics of polymer biodegradation. Students are challenged to use statistical methods to determine which polymer physical and chemical property measurements best correlate with biodegradability.

The laboratory unit is designed to provide an inquiry-based educational experience to students by exposing a variety of polymer samples to simulated biomass environments and characterizing the samples against the exposure time. It is known that molecular properties of polymers, such as

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Warren, D., & Shahbazi, A., & Lou, J., & Schimmel, K. (2005, June), Using Biodegradable Polymer Experiments To Examine Structure Function Relationships Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14936

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