MRS Bulletin

Technical Feature

Technical Feature

Polymer Nanocomposites

Karen I. Winey and Richard A. Vaia


Polymer nanocomposites (PNCs)–that is, nanopar ticles (spheres, rods, plates) dispersed in a polymer matrix–have garnered substantial academic and industrial in terest since their inception, circa 1990. This is due in large part to the incredible promise demonstrated by these early efforts: PNCs will not only expand the per form ance space of traditional filled polymers, but introduce completely new combinations of properties and thus enable new applications for plastics. Low volume additions (1–5%) of nanopar -ticles, such as layered silicates or carbon nanotubes, provide property enhancements with respect to the neat resin that are comparable to those achieved by conventional loadings (15–40%) of traditional fillers. The lower loadings facilitate proc essing and re duce component weight. Most important, though, is the unique value - added properties not normally possible with traditional fillers, such as reduced permeability, optical clarity, self - passivation, and increased re sis tance to oxidation and ablation. These characteristics have been transformed into numerous commercial suc cesses, including automotive parts, coatings, and flame retardants. This issue of the MRS Bulletin provides a snapshot of these exemplary successes, future opportunities, and the critical scientific challenges still to be addressed for these nanoscale multiphase systems. In addition, these ar ticles provide a perspective on the current status and future directions of polymer nanocomposite science and technology and their potential to move beyond additive concepts to designed ma te rials and devices with prescribed nanoscale composition and morphology.

Karen I. Winey, Guest Editor for this issue of MRS Bulletin, is a professor of ma te rials science and engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her BS degree in ma te rials science and engineering from Cornell University and her MS and PhD degrees in polymer science and engineering from the University of Massachusetts under the direction of Edwin L. Thomas.

Winey probes structure–property relationships in nanotube–polymer composites, ion-containing polymers, and block copolymers, where the properties of interest include electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, mechanical properties and permeability. She received an NSF Young Investigator Award in 1994 and was elected fellow of the American Physical Society in 2003. Winey is currently chair of the Polymer Physics Gordon Research Conference scheduled for 2010. She recently published an invited review ar ticle entitled “Polymer Nanocomposites Containing Carbon Nanotubes” in Macromolecules (39, 5194–5205, 2006).

Winey can be reached at 3231 Walnut St., University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6272, USA; tel. 215-898-0593, fax 215-573-2128, and e-mail

Richard A. Vaia, Guest Editor for this issue of MRS Bulletin, is the lead of the NanoMaterials Strategy Group and chair of the NanoScience and Technology (NST) Strategic Technology Team at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). He received his PhD degree in ma te rials science and engineering at Cornell University in 1995 and was a distinguished graduate from Cornell's Air Force ROTC.

Vaia's research group focuses on polymer nanocomposites, photonic technologies, and their impact on developing adaptive soft matter. His honors and awards include Air Force Outstanding Scientist (2002); MRL Visiting Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara (2006); Air Force Office of Scientific Research Star Team (2003–2005, 2005–2007), and the Outstanding Engineers and Scientists Award (2006) from the Affiliate Societies Council of Dayton, Ohio. Vaia serves on the editorial boards of Chemistry of Materials, Macromolecules, and Materials Today. He is on the MRS board of directors, and is a member-at-large for the Division of Polymeric Materials Science and Engineering of the American Chemical Society. He has authored more than 100 papers and patents.

Vaia can be reached at the Air Force Research Laboratory, 2941 Hobson Way, Bldg. 654, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH 45433-7750 USA; tel. 937-255-9184, fax 937-255-9157, and e-mail