CSIRO: Australian credited for new science

30 November 2000

Dr Voytek Gutowski with the Plueddemann Award for Execellence in Composite Interface Research. An Australian scientist has been awarded a prestigious American science award, acknowledging his role as the founder of new echnologies and as a leader in the new science of surface engineering of polymers. Dr W.S. (Voytek) Gutowski of CSIRO Polymer Surface Engineering Group in Melbourne has won the prestigious 2000 Plueddeman Award for inventing a process which, for the first time enables the successful adhesion of paints, adhesives, inks, metallic coatings and other materials to otherwise non-bondable plastics (polyethylene, polypropylene and others). The concept involves oxidising the surface of a polymer followed by the deposition of special types of chemicals (such as silanes and others) which form "chemical connector" molecules on the surface of the originally "smooth" and chemically inert plastic. Dr Gutowski says, "It works like a chemical Velcro." "The surface molecules create an array of molecular bridges, and reach out to provide chemical adhesion anchors to materials that until now just wouldn't stick easily to plastics." The successful technology now called SICOR has been integrated into the manufacturing plant of a major international building products company and is used by Holden Ltd in gluing plastic body side-mouldings to its range of Commodore motor cars. SICOR has widespread applications and is currently being used to develop special surfaces on plastic "corks" for bottling premium wines. It offers a revolution in reducing the cost of application of paints in automotive industry and inks or metallic coatings in the packaging industry. CSIRO is currently assessing the transfer of the SICOR technology through a spin-off company. CSIRO is confident that SICOR's unique adhesion performance will provide a new company with a highly competitive range of products for the surface treatment of plastics in a growing market - a market that is soon expected to turnover almost $US1 billion annually. The Director of the US National Science Foundation Center for Molecular Microstructure of Composites, Professor Hatsuo Ishida conferred the Award on behalf of the International Award Committee at the International Conference on Composite Interfaces in Cleveland, USA in October. Professor Hatsuo said, "Until the development of Dr Gutowski's novel concept of engineering the surfaces of polymers, the silanes and other organo-functional adhesion promoters were effective for promoting adhesion only on the surfaces of metals and ceramics." "The original concept underwent significant metamorphosis through rigorous development by Dr Gutowski's research team which is currently fully committed to the newly created science of surface engineering of polymers." The International Plueddeman Award was established in 1988 and is awarded to eminent scientists who have gained international recognition for outstanding research and related achievements in the field of interfaces in adhesion, particularly in relation to composite materials. The Plueddeman Award recognises the breakthrough developments and technological significance of new science and technology created by the invention of organo-silicone adhesion promoter molecules (silanes). These were originally developed and explored by the late Dr Edwin Plueddeman (Chief Research Scientist of US Dow Corning Corporation) for improving the performance of glass-fibre reinforced composites. These are now extensively used for improving the adhesion of paints, adhesives and other materials to metals and ceramics. Dr Gutowski has dedicated his Plueddeman Award to his research team. "My staff have worked very hard for 10 years helping convert a revolutionary concept into a significant industrial technology of global importance," he says