Conspectus When one brings "polymeric materials" and "mechanical action" into the same conversation, the topic of this discussion might naturally focus on everyday circumstances such as failure of fibers, fatigue of composites, abrasion of coatings, etc. This intuitive viewpoint reflects the historic consensus in both academia and industry that mechanically induced chemical changes are destructive, leading to polymer degradation that limits materials lifetime on both macroscopic and molecular levels. In the 1930s, Staudinger observed mechanical degradation of polymers, and Melville later discovered that polymer chain scission caused the degradation. Inspired by these historical observations, we sought to redirect the destructive mechanical energy to a productive form that enables mechanoresponsive functions.In this Account, we provide a personal perspective on the origin, barriers, developments, and key advancements of polymer mechanochemistry. We revisit the seminal events that offered molecular-level insights into the mechanochemical behavior of polymers and influenced our thinking. We also highlight the milestones achieved by our group along with the contributions from key comrades at the frontier of this field. We present a workflow for the design, evaluation, and development of new "mechanophores", a term that has come to mean a molecular unit that chemically responds in a selective manner to a mechanical perturbation. We discuss the significance of computation in identifying pairs of points on the mechanophore that promote stretch-induced activation. Attaching polymer chains to the mechanophore at the most sensitive pair and locating the mechanophore near the center of a linear polymer are thought to maximize the efficiency of mechanical-to-chemical energy transduction. We also emphasize the importance of control experiments to validate mechanochemical transformations, both in solution and in the solid state, to differentiate "mechanical" from "thermal" activation. This Account offers our first-hand perspective of the change-in-thinking in polymer mechanochemistry from "destructive" to "productive" and looks at future advances that will stimulate this growing field.
ASJC Scopus subject areas