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Tech from Plextronics Could Replace Bulbs, ’Do Away With iPads’

In 1990, Richard McCullough was pondering a new way to make conductive polymers so that they would transfer more electricity in electronic applications. McCullough, then a chemistry professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, knew this type of linked molecule was hard to manufacture cheaply on a commercial scale. He thought joining the ends of a chain to form a collapsible loop might solve both problems.

After a decade of federally funded research, McCullough proved his hypothesis. “We figured out a way to connect a polymer head to tail,” he says. “That allowed the structure to be flat so electrons could run up and down it, like water in a hose.” If a hose is straight, lots of water flows through. When twisted, the stream thins. “Through synthesis we straightened out our polymer to make it very conductive,” McCullough explains.