The Wulff Group at the University of Victoria, headed by Professor Jeremy Wulff, took their cue from chemical biologists who have been using diazirines for decades to attach small molecules to proteins. Wulff and his team took this concept and designed a molecule that could attach itself in two places at the same time. After successfully demonstrating the exceptional crosslinking ability of their new molecule on a number of different polymers (including polypropylene, a saturated hydrocarbon polymer with very low functionality), it was clear that this breakthrough could have wide-ranging practical and commercial implications.
How Diazirines Work
Diazirines are three-membered rings with one carbon and two double-bonded nitrogen atoms.
On exposure to near UV-light or moderate heat, diazirines rapidly break down into carbenes, which insert themselves into C–H, N–H, and O–H bonds. When two diazirine units are present in a single molecule, the resulting bis-diazirine acts as a crosslinker, covalently bonding two polymer chains together at the same time.
Diazirines react with even the most unreactive polymers, such as polyethylene and polypropylene, functionalizing surfaces and textiles for a variety of purposes: forming strong bonds, adding material strength and making materials responsive to dyes and coatings.
Learn more about the breakthrough science of polymer crosslinking:
Advanced Crosslinking Technology in the Journal Science
Structure–function relationships in aryl diazirines reveal optimal design features to maximize C–H insertion
Flexible polyfluorinated bis-diazirines as molecular adhesives
Cross-linking polyethylene through carbenes