Futurism or scenarios for development of macromolecular materials - dreams and realities !
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Speech delivered by Engin Sokullu
at CIPAD 2007 General Assembly in Istanbul

In the opening scene of the famous movie, "The Graduate", 
a friend of the family provides to young graduate Dustin Hoffman 
perhaps the most famous movie line of advice.
He says:
"I just want to say one word to you. Just one word: 

Audiences in the sixties sneered at this pragmatic advice 
but given everything that has been made of plastic in the last thirty years, 
that advice was right and it still is. 
Plastics have been the most pervasive industrial compound of the twentieth century, 
but plastics will to be more useful in the following centuries. 

When we begin to dream about future, immediately some preset images flood into our mind 
such as robots walking as humans in the streets, time machines, flying automobiles, etc.
But as serious industry people, we must not break too far away from the realities.
Lets first consider the most unrealistic dream that became a reality in our life time in the plastics world :
the world production of polymers has now by far exceeded the production of steel .
That was an unrealistic dream when PE was first discovered some 70 years ago but became a reality in our lifetime.

Indeed the application of plastics to increasingly substitute 
more conventional structural materials (e.g. metals, glass, ceramics, paper) is a reality 
and about 60 percent of the world production of polymeric materials is used to supply structural  materials to the market.
So it is not prophetical to think that substitution is the key word for the future of plastics.
Indeed it is a reality that plastics have replaced almost most of our conventional wooden windows, doors and chairs 
and that they will continue to replace our conventional structural materials. 
Since large-scale replacement of glass by PET for fluid containers is a good example of a present day reality, 
we don’t need much of an imagination for dreaming that our window glasses will be replaced by some polymers in the future 
or that innovative cars built entirely out of plastic will be the wave of the future, making the glass and metal a thing of the past .

Now let’s dream a little further into the not so far future:
Can new structural  plastics replace the steel ropes and structures of 1 km long bridges like Istanbul Bosphorus bridges ? 
Who knows, maybe .  
But for sure they began replacing some traditional bridges made of wood, stone, concrete or steel: 
the first highway bridge constructed of composite profiles was officially opened in 2002 in UK.
By the way,  talking of the ropes from polymeric materials, how about taking a closer look to the ropes of elevators 
and dreaming a little further. 
I am not talking of today’s elevators, not even of the elevators of such several kilometers tall future buildings. 
I am talking of space elevators carrying materials and people to the geosynchronous satellites. 
If they become a reality, the ropes of such elevators cannot be made of steel. 
They will definetely be made of light weight polymeric composites.
Now I can dream of a future plastic industry extruding kilometers of ropes to thousands of space elevators everywhere in the world.

Another important fact about the future of plastics is the continual substitution of more expensive “specialty” polymers 
by new generations of “commodity” polymers. 
This happens by the constant improvement of the processing properties and physical characteristics of polymers.
New advances at the level of the molecular architecture will definetely lead to a constant evolution of the properties 
in present day application.

Innovation  in plastics is essential to the development of our present industrial and agricultural systems 
and will assists in the restructuring and development of our future world. 
Innovative development of new technologies (e.g. CD’s) is also a constant source of industrial evolution for plastics. 
In that context, foldable plastic computers screens will probably change our lives in the very near future. 

We may also expect some distruptive innovation by the discovery of new polymers with revolutionary properties.
Developing inherently conductive polymers and organic semiconductors with electrical and physical properties
 far superior to those that exist today will change the basis of many present day technologies.
Hybrid plastics will combine the best qualities of other materials such as ceramics and hydrocarbon-based plastics.

Another emerging trend in plastics is and will continue to be recycling 
and the replacement of biodegradable and organic alternatives to conventional plastics.
Bioresponsible, biocompatible materials solutions will deliver all the functionality of conventional plastics 
in an economical and ecosensitive way in the future.
Natural sustainable viable plastics are not a dream and will be a reality of a  bright bio-inspired future world.

Rethinking macromolecules will lead  probably to nanomaterials and nanotech plastics 
with unforeseenable properties and unintended consequences. 
Microcomposites, nanocomposites and ecocomposites will emerge as new trends.
In polymer science, the focus will shift away from the properties of bulk materials 
to the search for new functionalities by design at the molecular level.

With synthetic DNA like macromolecules, building very small electrical and computer devices will be plausible. 
I believe that in the next fifty years we will see much more interaction between polymer science and cell biology. 
I also think polymer science and molecular biology will become more intertwined.
Biological macromolecules and smart polymers will probably be another new polymer concept.
A big leap in polymer capability will happen when biological molecular machines will work
particularly electroactive polymers (which can move) and organic-electronic polymers (which can compute) will be synthetized. 
It’s obvious that the gulf between the crudities of synthetic polymer science and the intricacies of cell biology is currently immense 
but with the reverse engineering of biology that gulf will lessen. 

Future will definitely come as most of the above predictions will become simple realities .
We probably have seen yet only a short opening scene of the show of plastics at the theater of manhood 
and much more very interesting scenes are to be seen as new polymer actors will take stage in the not too distant future.