Vignesh is a researcher with more than eight years of experience in polymer synthesis, processing, and their application in various technologies. His research deals withย polymerization of high-pressure gases for unique applications. He currently pursues is research at the University of Connecticut, Institute of Material Science.

Vignesh is here at Mango’s Kids Ask Network to answer all your questions on polymers and anything chemistry. Ask away!

Discussion

67 Comments
  • Mango Education

    Good evening all members! Vignesh is here to answer all your questions about his research and everything chemistry. As usual, we got some questions curated for this session to make it worthwhile. We’ll get started with that!

    And It’d be super awesome if you guys could be a leeeeetle bit patient when you ask questions. We expect you to follow these two simple netiquette.

    1. Before you post a question, wait for the previous questions to be answered.
    2. Do not bump your questions too often if it’s left unanswered.
    3. Mention your age when you ask a question.

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      In simple terms polymer ( poly -many mer- inits) is just the joining of many units of molecules together , consider building a Lego block one unit at a time. Just that the end of making Lego block, it becomes a noodles.

      Thats a great question Karthi, To answer the second part of your question, I work on polymerizing high pressure gases for unique applications.

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      Any polymer with fluorine is a favourite polymer of mine,
      Fluorine has atomic number 9 , hence is very electronegative . So gives raise to unique electroactive properties for polymer. PVDF and TEFLON are favourites, PVDF when pressed mechanically can give electrical properties.

      Funny story about TEFLON is it has repeat unit of (CF2-CF2) , hence is very water repellant widely used in non stick surfaces, funnily it was totally discovered by accident when a reaction didn’t work and many people couldn’t characterize the polymer.

      As many scientists would like to point out , atleast two Nobel prizes are poured down the drain every day, so always be curious and justify why or why not something doesn’t work.

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      Hi Mithun, Polymers are widely used in various fields, so the future is bright but with challenges. More appropriately polymers have to move from have a bad reputation about being non recyclale to recyclable but being biodegradable. So a lot of great work is being done in the field of biopolymers.

      Great Question by the way

      Even though biopolymer have been developed, there is still considerable research is required to replace the commericial viability of many conventional polymers such as polyethene and polypropylene.

        • Vignesh Vasu
          Vignesh Vasu

          Commonly used polyethene is high density or low density polyethene, however ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene is used in bone replacement as artificial body parts such as hip and are 3D printed into various types of parts.

  • Avatar

    Plastic or Polythene is non-biodegradable. With the recent ban on polythene bags, what kind of polymers that are biodegradable can replace polythene bags?

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      Hi Mithun, Another great question, you are on a roll.

      Typically polymer are obtained when you polymerize ethene, that is put each unit of ethene one after the other. Ethene or ethylene which are obtained as by product of petroleum refineries. However, if we move from all these non renewale sources and more into raw materials from natural resources such as starch based one they will be more environmentally benign.

      Polylactic acid is one of the best candidates out there, however polymers are rarely used in their base form. They typically have a lot of additives, or tend to be mix of polymers such as blends

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    Arumugham

    Hi Vignesh. I have a question. What made you pursue research in Polymer? Had your childhood played some role?

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      Hi Arumugham, Polymer was one of the interesting chapters i read on high school chemistry, it all started with being intrigued by benzene (C6H6). However , a great passion was instilled by our Chemistry teacher Uma madam, who instilled a great love and dedication for chemistry with her impassioned approach to chemistry.

  • Mango Education

    Talkin about chemistry in schools! A consensus among most kids is that chemistry is utterly boring. As a researcher and a kid who loved chemistry, what do you suggest to make chemistry as interesting as learning physics.

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      Chemistry is fun as long as you remember carbon has valence of four. Jokes aside chemistry is all about the balance, there is more fun to be had with chemistry than any of the other pure sciences, where else can you get to make as many unique molecules granted you didnโ€™t mix explosives. Consider Chemistry as cooking, you can make as many unique recipes with 118+ elements. You can mix and match, just imagine the possibilities to be had. Even noble gases which are inert can be made into products such XeF2, XeF6.

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    Arumugham

    A lot of folks have a myth that scientists are people with glasses and books. I remember you were a sportsperson in school. Did sports have any influence? Is it good for kids to pursue extra-curricular activities?

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      Sports instill discipline, sound mind in a sound body, as cliched as it may sound. It is important to take time out to take care of yourself, If only one can visit a research university . You have myriad of characteristics in people at university. I would highly suggests students to look up, Jeremiah Johnson, he is more Curt Cobain than your stereotypical scientist.

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      Lack of hands on experience is the biggest draw back in our school syllabi. Students should be allowed to express their creativity and learn from their mistakes in a controlled setting, so that they can understand the difference in application and theory. Students should have a wiggle room to make mistakes, just as in life there is more to be learnt from a failed experiment than a reaction that works successfully.

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      Great progress has been made in that end, Self-healing polymers have been synthesized, but their day to day applications have been limited due to lack of robustness of the systems employed. Hence, still a lot of distance to be travelled to the days of self repairing Iron man suits.

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      Photocatalyst for example are interesting class of materials for synthesizing polymers. They can be used under sun light, remember making the polymer under sunlight, just like pongal but more of Maggi noodles. Polymers are like spagetti.

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      Its all fun and games, when you are having fun you loose track of time. There is no set time, you are responsible for your research, your motivation gives you more energy to go on and do the most fun and eloborate things. I know researcher, who have gone to do experiments for 72 hours straight as got to play with synchrotron in national lab.

      One aspect of research, people miss about its a lot more colloborative, as it comes together people with various expertise.
      Research is all about road not taken, the woods are deep dark and lovely, you need to travel it, just to paraphrase frost.

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    After the plastic ban in TN, the stores are now providing 100% biodegradable carry bags that mimic plastic carry bags. What are they usually made of? When did they become commercially available?

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      Polymers is generic term that comprises, plastics, thermosets and rubbers. Plastic is still a convenient polymer. TN has ban on single use plastics, I dont necessarily know the composition but they will be mix of various things to be a blend. I will keep you posted on what material they are, typically they are derived from saccharides.

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    I’m a 13yr old. What is the maximum number of times a plastic bag or any plastic object be recycled?

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      As with most things, depends on the material it is made from typically most of the times its polyethylene, but even that could be Low density or high density polyethylene. Sometimes they are used till failure, we should minimize single use plastics.
      Great Question Lohith.

  • Avatar

    What kind of catalysts do you use, to synthesise polymers everyday and what’s your personal favourite?

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      Mithun, This is personnel favourite area of mine. ZIegler natta catalyst was favourite when i was in high school, but when i started graduate school, i worked on tailoring various catalyst. I loved working with Porphyrins, phenothiazine, Iron and Ruthenium catalyst. Photo catalyst such as Mn, Ru and Iron are so much fun to work with. I am impartial to nickel based ones too.

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    Nathan Grace

    I feel that reduction of carrybags will only solve 15 % of the problem it won’t make much of a difference isn’t it ??

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      Hi Nathan,

      Change can be slow, but any change for good is always appreciable. 15% is significant change. However there should always be research to compensate societal challenges. As young researcher, figure out ways to fight the problem. Cleaning up the oceans are big challenges, that could be great motivation to take up sciences and work for the betterment.

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      Yes, technically any molecule with repeating chemical units are polymers including proteins, RNA and DNA. So by definition, Graphene is a polymer, but typical characteristics of graphene, graphene oxide cannot be stated in terms of molecular weight as in case of conventional polymers. However Graphene are more of surfactants than polymers.

  • Avatar

    Learning chemistry in theory is actually fun. A trip to chemistry lab to do a simple experiment like using a pH paper is pretty exciting. As a researcher specialised in chemistry (polymer), you get to deal with a lot of chemicals every day. How fun is that?

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      That is best part of the job, however before one can jump it is essential to get the basics right. Design of experiment is equally important, once you get a hang of things you can develop independent protocols, hence mentorship is essential at the initial phase of your career.

  • Avatar

    It is said that graphene could be obtained easily even using a pencil and and tape but why isn’t it available in the market for normal use?

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      Technically yes, pencil has graphite. Graphite is stack of graphene, so you can get them together. Final use of any product should have the strength to withstand day today wear and tear.

      Consider graphite as stack of playing cards, spread out the cards around a table and they become graphene.

      Graphene is being employed as in foam, as reinforcement in tyres. It slowly permeating various reseach fields, Graphene institute in Manchester is commericalizing various graphene products just to name a few.

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    Industrially important polymers are getting crores and crores of money. Discoveries like graphene fetch a trip to Sweden to get a nobel prize. What’s your aim and what do you plan to create or discover?

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      I will keep it simple, for now i just finished my graduate school and started a job at Intel. In the long run, i want to encourage kids to take up science, i want to start in acadamia.

      All great industrial advancements, have their roots in academia, i will want to bridge the gap with talented and motivated people like. Trip to sweden comes with cool prize money, but not one researcher does it for the money. But research should be the end goal, not noble not the crores.

      Have you heard about fields medal, please read about Grigori Perelman, most motivational and original scientific research in the last 30 years.

    • Vignesh Vasu
      Vignesh Vasu

      I would start of the kids with Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy, lord of the rings. But if i may , i would love to see more researchers from India winning noble with support from goverment and industry.

      Nylon rope trick is fun experiment to do, I would still want kids to do DIY experiments underwatchful eyes of adult supervision.

      Best suggestion i would say is, go observing cooking session and account for each color change, start with a simple sambar, which is turmeric yellow.

  • Vignesh Vasu
    Vignesh Vasu

    Hey Guys,

    This has been fun, i have a lot of female colleagues who are motivated to get your impressionable female researcher to take up science as career. I would love for them to participate in the future. Please let me know if it would be feasible, in the future.

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