By Wendy Plump
Department of Chemistry

January 25, 2021

As the planet’s burden of rubber and plastic rises unabated, scientists look to the promise of closed-loop recycling to reduce trash. Researchers from Princeton University’s Department of Chemistry have discovered a potentially game-changing new molecule with vast implications for fulfilling that promise.

A team of scientists led by Paul Chirik, the Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Chemistry, reports in Nature Chemistry that this molecule connects in a very unusual way: as a repeating sequence of squares, which allows the process to go backwards under certain conditions. In other words, the molecule can be “zipped up” to make a new polymer for use in plastic, and then unzipped — depolymerized — back to its pristine state, ready to be used again …

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