Jean Fréchet: From self-healing phone screens to self-driving cars

March 7, 2019

Jean FréchetAbout 50 percent of people globally have experienced a cracked smartphone screen at least once, according to a survey conducted by a prominent smartphone company. Now smartphone users have reason for cheer as the latest developments in polymer technology have raised the possibility of self-healing glass for smartphones and other fragile devices.

Advanced applications of polymers, a class of chemical compounds, do not stop with cracked phone screens. In fact, scientists are scripting an entirely new story with polymers, which until recently was best associated with plastics and fibers.

Today, polymers are better known for defining the elements of modern life in areas ranging from microelectronics to therapeutic applications. In fact, had it not been for polymers, the world’s rapid transition from the Industrial Revolution to the digital era, and now, the Fourth Industrial Revolution era, would have been difficult to conceive.

Polymers are making it possible to create smaller yet much powerful computer chips. That is why the smartphone in your pocket has more computing power than the computers behind NASA’s moon mission 50 years ago.

And when you are onboard a self-driving car a few years from now, remember that polymers are behind the faster computing power of the chips in your car, enabling it to acquire machine vision to interpret images from the real world as it takes you safely to your destination.

With polymer research hastening the process of miniaturization, scientists are creating tiny robots, no bigger than a cell in our body. These microscopic devices would be capable of swimming through the arteries of stroke victims to reach the blood clots in brains and drill through the clot to restore blood flow.

New research led by Professor emeritus Jean M.J. Fréchet, a leading American chemist, has led to the development of innovative polymeric carriers for transportation of drugs and vaccines inside the human body, and the design of electroactive polymers used for organic transistors and solar cells. For his pioneering work in these areas, Professor Frechet has recently been awarded the 2019 King Faisal Prize in Science.

Scientific breakthroughs such as these will be the focus of a special lecture by Professor Frechet, which will be organized by King Faisal Prize at Alfaisal University, Riyadh, on March 24. Based on the topic, ‘Polymers and their less well-known applications from microelectronics to therapeutics’, the lecture comes as part of King Faisal Prize’s efforts to encourage scientific research and advance humanity.