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Bubbles turn on chemical catalysts

Mechanical force could help chemical compounds spur reactions when the time is right

Scientists have figured out a new way to strong-arm some catalysts, tying the chemical compounds down and then, as needed, unleashing them with brute force. The research, published online April 6 in Nature Chemistry, could lead to coatings that heal when scratched or new fluids for making moldings or microchips. The work also offers a way to monitor stress in materials found in products such as bike helmets. 

A catalyst’s job is to speed up or slow down a reaction in everything from car engines to cells. But to do so, an area known as the active site has to be exposed. In materials science, catalysts are often spurred into action with heat, UV light or a change in pH. In the new study scientists used the ultrasonic force released by bursting bubbles to unleash two catalysts that had been bound in chains of polymers.

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