Supramolecular polymers – we've come full circle

Takuzo Aida, E.W. Meijer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

110 Citations (Scopus)
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Since the first polymers were discovered, scientists have debated their structures. Before Hermann Staudinger published the brilliant concept of macromolecules, polymer properties were generally believed to be based on the colloidal aggregation of small particles or molecules. From 1920 onwards, polymers and macromolecules are synonymous with each other; i. e. materials made by many covalent bonds connecting monomers in 2 or 3 dimensions. Although supramolecular interactions between macromolecular chains are evidently important, e. g. in nylons, it was unheard of to proposing polymeric materials based on the interaction of small molecules. Breakthroughs in supramolecular chemistry, however, showed that polymer materials can be made by small molecules using strong directional secondary interactions; the field of supramolecular polymers emerged. In a way, we have come full circle. In this essay we give a personal story about the birth of supramolecular polymers, with special emphasis on their structures, way of formation, and the dynamic nature of their bonding. The adaptivity of supramolecular polymers has become a major asset for novel applications, e. g. in the direction for the sustainable use of polymers, but also in biomedicine and electronics as well as self-healing materials. The lessons learned in the past years include aspects that forecast a bright future for the use of supramolecular interactions in polymer materials in general and for supramolecular polymers in particular. In order to give full tribute to Staudinger in the year celebrating 100 years of macromolecules, we will show that many of the concepts of macromolecular polymers apply to supramolecular polymers, with only one important difference with fascinating consequences: the dynamic nature of the bonds that form polymer chains.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-47
Number of pages15
JournalIsrael Journal of Chemistry
Issue number1-2
Early online date18 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • history of polymer science
  • self-assembly
  • soft materials
  • stereochemistry
  • supramolecular polymers


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