Scientists have developed a new method for developing mechanically-reinforced polymer nanocomposites at Case Western Reserve University. In this new approach, the team used a process in which the reinforced nanoparticles are first assembled into a three-dimensional network through gelation of nanoparticle dispersion, essentially forming a template. This template can then be filled with any polymer of choice by exchanging the solvent with a polymer-containing solution.
Through this new technique, the team of researchers has been able to take the most incompatible components and show that they can be used to make compatible materials.
While the research primarily focused on cellulose "whiskers" as the choice of nanoparticles since they offer useful mechanical properties and are readily obtained from renewable biosources such as wood and cotton, the team also started to investigate an array of different polymers and nanofibers, demonstrating that the technique has broad applicability.