Mechanical scission of a knotted polymer

Min Zhang, Robert Nixon, Fredrik Schaufelberger, Lucian Pirvu, Guillaume De Bo (Corresponding), David Leigh (Corresponding)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Molecular knots and entanglements form randomly and spontaneously in both biological and synthetic polymer chains. It is known that macroscopic materials, such as ropes, are substantially weakened by the presence of knots, but until now it has been unclear whether similar behaviour occurs on a molecular level. Here we show that the presence of a well-defined overhand knot in a polymer chain substantially increases the rate of scission of the polymer under tension (≥2.6× faster) in solution, because deformation of the polymer backbone induced by the tightening knot activates otherwise unreactive covalent bonds. The fragments formed upon severing of the knotted chain differ from those that arise from cleavage of a similar, but unknotted, polymer. Our solution studies provide experimental evidence that knotting can contribute to higher mechanical scission rates of polymers. It also demonstrates that entanglement design can be used to generate mechanophores that are among the most reactive described to date, providing opportunities to increase the reactivity of otherwise inert functional groups.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Chemistry
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2024


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