Polymers are, compared to alternative materials with which we shape the world, mainly characterized by their low density, ease of processing and shaping, possibilities of functional integration and an almost unlimited flexibility in molecular design. Moreover they are in most cases relatively cheap. These characteristics determine not only the societal needs for improved polymer systems in a multitude of application areas like protection, isolation, transportation, communication, illumination, packaging, housing, furniture, clothing etc. but also set the controlling scientific questions to be answered within this research area.
By (i) critically investigating recent trends in modern polymer science and technology, (ii) by comparing activities and choices made here with those of famous groups worldwide that form the source of inspiration, and (iii) by trying to define challenges for the future that act to inspire young people and students, meanwhile (iv) building further on the strength and unique capabilities of the present scientific staff, EPL, Eindhoven Polymer Laboratories, defined three research areas where the focus of polymer science and technology at the TU/e will be:
- Complex Molecular Systems
- Functional Polymers and Devices
- Multi-scale Modeling and Advanced Characterization
The first focus area tries to answer questions on how complex molecular systems form by self-organizing and function, partially mimicking nature and life, the second area investigates on how useful advanced devices can be made out of complex, usually functional, polymers, while the third focus area identifies and addresses the questions concerning our understanding of polymers and polymer systems, and giving directions on how intense trial and error can be circumvented.
The DPI, Dutch Polymer Institute, defined a possible fourth focus area, Materials Design and Engineering, which reflects the industrial need to also design and engineer new polymer materials, partly based on bio-based renewable resources. Of course the boundaries between the focus areas are open and transparent and lots of mutual cross-interactions exist. Strong and intense cooperation with other disciplines is guaranteed by cross-appointments of a number of critical individuals.
This summary of the scientific goals of the polymer research done in the research school EPL is phrased in the chain-of-knowledge idea that we practised within EPL during the last 15 years. This phrase tries to express that successful research and innovations in polymer science and engineering can only be realized if the total line, starting with monomer synthesis and ending in processing and design, is successfully elaborated.