Conductive polymer

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Chemical structures of some conductive polymers. From top left clockwise: polyacetylene; polyphenylene vinylene; polypyrrole (X = NH) and polythiophene (X = S); and polypyrrole (X = NH) and polyphenylene sulfide (X = S). ConductivePoly.png
Chemical structures of some conductive polymers. From top left clockwise: polyacetylene; polyphenylene vinylene; polypyrrole (X = NH) and polythiophene (X = S); and polypyrrole (X = NH) and polyphenylene sulfide (X = S).

Conductive polymers or, more precisely, intrinsically conducting polymers (ICPs) are organic polymers that conduct electricity. [1] Such compounds may have metallic conductivity or can be semiconductors. The biggest advantage of conductive polymers is their processability, mainly by dispersion. Conductive polymers are generally not thermoplastics, i.e., they are not thermoformable. But, like insulating polymers, they are organic materials. They can offer high electrical conductivity but do not show similar mechanical properties to other commercially available polymers. The electrical properties can be fine-tuned using the methods of organic synthesis [2] and by advanced dispersion techniques. [3]

Electricity physical phenomena associated with the presence and flow of electric charge

Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and motion of matter that has a property of electric charge. In early days, electricity was considered as being not related to magnetism. Later on, many experimental results and the development of Maxwell's equations indicated that both electricity and magnetism are from a single phenomenon: electromagnetism. Various common phenomena are related to electricity, including lightning, static electricity, electric heating, electric discharges and many others.

A semiconductor material has an electrical conductivity value falling between that of a metal, like copper, gold, etc. and an insulator, such as glass. Their resistance decreases as their temperature increases, which is behaviour opposite to that of a metal. Their conducting properties may be altered in useful ways by the deliberate, controlled introduction of impurities ("doping") into the crystal structure. Where two differently-doped regions exist in the same crystal, a semiconductor junction is created. The behavior of charge carriers which include electrons, ions and electron holes at these junctions is the basis of diodes, transistors and all modern electronics. Some examples of semiconductors are silicon, germanium, and gallium arsenide. After silicon, gallium arsenide is the second most common semiconductor used in laser diodes, solar cells, microwave frequency integrated circuits, and others. Silicon is a critical element for fabricating most electronic circuits.

A dispersion is a system in which discrete particles of one material are dispersed in a continuous phase of another material. The two phases may be in the same or different states of matter. They are different from solutions, where dissolved molecules do not form a separate phase from the solute.



Polyaniline was first described in the mid-19th century by Henry Letheby, who investigated the electrochemical and chemical oxidation products of aniline in acidic media. He noted that reduced form was colourless but the oxidized forms were deep blue. [4]

Henry Letheby British chemist

Henry Letheby was an English analytical chemist and public health officer.

The first highly-conductive organic compounds were the charge transfer complexes. [5] In the 1950s, researchers reported that polycyclic aromatic compounds formed semi-conducting charge-transfer complex salts with halogens. [2] In 1954, researchers at Bell Labs and elsewhere reported organic charge transfer complexes with resistivities as low as 8 ohms-cm. [6] [7] In the early 1970s, researchers demonstrated salts of tetrathiafulvalene show [8] almost metallic conductivity, while superconductivity was demonstrated in 1980. Broad research on charge transfer salts continues today. While these compounds were technically not polymers, this indicated that organic compounds can carry current. While organic conductors were previously intermittently discussed, the field was particularly energized by the prediction of superconductivity [9] following the discovery of BCS theory.

A charge-transfer complex or electron-donor-acceptor complex is an association of two or more molecules, or of different parts of one large molecule, in which a fraction of electronic charge is transferred between the molecular entities. The resulting electrostatic attraction provides a stabilizing force for the molecular complex. The source molecule from which the charge is transferred is called the electron donor and the receiving species is called the electron acceptor.

Tetrathiafulvalene chemical compound

Tetrathiafulvalene is an organosulfur compound with the formula (H2C2S2C)2. Studies on this heterocyclic compound contributed to the development of molecular electronics. TTF is related to the hydrocarbon fulvalene, (C5H4)2, by replacement of four CH groups with sulfur atoms. Over 10,000 scientific publications discuss TTF and its derivatives.

Superconductivity physical phenomenon

Superconductivity is a phenomenon of exactly zero electrical resistance and expulsion of magnetic flux fields occurring in certain materials, called superconductors, when cooled below a characteristic critical temperature. It was discovered by Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes on April 8, 1911, in Leiden. Like ferromagnetism and atomic spectral lines, superconductivity is a quantum mechanical phenomenon. It is characterized by the Meissner effect, the complete ejection of magnetic field lines from the interior of the superconductor during its transitions into the superconducting state. The occurrence of the Meissner effect indicates that superconductivity cannot be understood simply as the idealization of perfect conductivity in classical physics.

In 1963 Australians B.A. Bolto, D.E. Weiss, and coworkers reported derivatives of polypyrrole with resistivities as low as 1 ohm·cm. [10] [6] cites multiple reports of similar high-conductivity oxidized polyacetylenes. With the notable exception of charge transfer complexes (some of which are even superconductors), organic molecules were previously considered insulators or at best weakly conducting semiconductors. Subsequently, DeSurville and coworkers reported high conductivity in a polyaniline. [11] Likewise, in 1980, Diaz and Logan reported films of polyaniline that can serve as electrodes. [12]

Polypyrrole polymer

Polypyrrole (PPy) is a type of organic polymer formed by the polymerization of pyrrole. Polypyrroles are conducting polymers, related members being polythiophene, polyaniline, and polyacetylene. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded in 2000 for work on conductive polymers including polypyrrole.

While mostly operating in the quantum realm of less than 100 nanometers, "molecular" electronic processes can collectively manifest on a macro scale. Examples include quantum tunneling, negative resistance, phonon-assisted hopping and polarons. In 1977, Alan J. Heeger, Alan MacDiarmid and Hideki Shirakawa reported similar high conductivity in oxidized iodine-doped polyacetylene. [13] For this research, they were awarded the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for the discovery and development of conductive polymers." [14] Polyacetylene itself did not find practical applications, but drew the attention of scientists and encouraged the rapid growth of the field. [4] Since the late 1980s, organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) have emerged as an important application of conducting polymers. [15] [16]

The quantum realm in physics is the scale where quantum mechanical effects become important when studied as an isolated system. Typically, this means distances of 100 nanometers or less or at very low temperature. More precisely, it is where the action or angular momentum is quantized.

Negative resistance

In electronics, negative resistance (NR) is a property of some electrical circuits and devices in which an increase in voltage across the device's terminals results in a decrease in electric current through it.

In physics, a phonon is a collective excitation in a periodic, elastic arrangement of atoms or molecules in condensed matter, like solids and some liquids. Often designated a quasiparticle, it represents an excited state in the quantum mechanical quantization of the modes of vibrations of elastic structures of interacting particles.


Linear-backbone "polymer blacks" (polyacetylene, polypyrrole, polyindole and polyaniline) and their copolymers are the main class of conductive polymers. Poly(p-phenylene vinylene) (PPV) and its soluble derivatives have emerged as the prototypical electroluminescent semiconducting polymers. Today, poly(3-alkylthiophenes) are the archetypical materials for solar cells and transistors. [2]

Polyacetylene (IUPAC name: polyethyne) usually refers to an organic polymer with the repeating unit (C2H2)n. The name refers to its conceptual construction from polymerization of acetylene to give a chain with repeating olefin groups. This compound is conceptually important, as the discovery of polyacetylene and its high conductivity upon doping helped to launch the field of organic conductive polymers. The high electrical conductivity discovered by Hideki Shirakawa, Alan Heeger, and Alan MacDiarmid for this polymer led to intense interest in the use of organic compounds in microelectronics (organic semiconductors). This discovery was recognized by the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2000. Early work in the field of polyacetylene research was aimed at using doped polymers as easily processable and lightweight "plastic metals". Despite the promise of this polymer in the field of conductive polymers, many of its properties such as instability to air and difficulty with processing have led to avoidance in commercial applications.

Polyaniline (PANI) is a conducting polymer of the semi-flexible rod polymer family. Although the compound itself was discovered over 150 years ago, only since the early 1980s has polyaniline captured the intense attention of the scientific community. This interest is due to the rediscovery of high electrical conductivity. Amongst the family of conducting polymers and organic semiconductors, polyaniline has many attractive processing properties. Because of its rich chemistry, polyaniline is one of the most studied conducting polymers of the past 50 years.

Poly(<i>p</i>-phenylene vinylene) polymer

Poly(p-phenylene vinylene) is a conducting polymer of the rigid-rod polymer family. PPV is the only polymer of this type that can be processed into a highly ordered crystalline thin film. PPV and its derivatives are electrically conducting upon doping. Although insoluble in water, its precursors can be manipulated in aqueous solution. The small optical band gap and its bright yellow fluorescence makes PPV a candidate in applications such as light-emitting diodes (LED) and photovoltaic devices. Moreover, PPV can be doped to form electrically conductive materials. Its physical and electronic properties can be altered by the inclusion of functional side groups.

The following table presents some organic conductive polymers according to their composition. The well-studied classes are written in bold and the less well studied ones are in italic.

The main chain contains Heteroatoms present
No heteroatom Nitrogen-containing Sulfur-containing
Aromatic cyclesThe N is in the aromatic cycle:

The N is outside the aromatic cycle:

The S is in the aromatic cycle:

The S is outside the aromatic cycle:

Double bonds
Aromatic cycles and double bonds


Conductive polymers are prepared by many methods. Most conductive polymers are prepared by oxidative coupling of monocyclic precursors. Such reactions entail dehydrogenation:

n H–[X]–H → H–[X]n–H + 2(n–1) H+ + 2(n–1) e

The low solubility of most polymers presents challenges. Some researchers add solubilizing functional groups to some or all monomers to increase solubility. Others address this through the formation of nanostructures and surfactant-stabilized conducting polymer dispersions in water. These include polyaniline nanofibers and PEDOT:PSS. In many cases, the molecular weight of conductive polymers are lower than conventional polymers such as polyethylene. However, in some cases, the molecular weight need not be high to achieve the desired properties.

There are two main methods used to synthesize conductive polymers, chemical synthesis and electro (co)polymerization. The chemical synthesis means connecting carbon-carbon bond of monomers by placing the simple monomers under various condition, such as heating, pressing, light exposure and catalyst. The advantage is high yield. However, there are many impurities plausible in the end product. The electro (co)polymerization means inserting three electrodes (reference electrode, counter electrode and working electrode) into solution including reactors or monomers. By applying voltage to electrodes, redox reaction to synthesize polymer is promoted. Electro (co)polymerization can also be divided into Cyclic Voltammetry and Potentiostatic method by applying cyclic voltage [17] and constant voltage. The advantage of Electro (co)polymerization are the high purity of products. But the method can only synthesize a few products at a time.

Molecular basis of electrical conductivity

The conductivity of such polymers is the result of several processes. For example, in traditional polymers such as polyethylenes, the valence electrons are bound in sp3 hybridized covalent bonds. Such "sigma-bonding electrons" have low mobility and do not contribute to the electrical conductivity of the material. However, in conjugated materials, the situation is completely different. Conducting polymers have backbones of contiguous sp2 hybridized carbon centers. One valence electron on each center resides in a pz orbital, which is orthogonal to the other three sigma-bonds. All the pz orbitals combine with each other to a molecule wide delocalized set of orbitals. The electrons in these delocalized orbitals have high mobility when the material is "doped" by oxidation, which removes some of these delocalized electrons. Thus, the conjugated p-orbitals form a one-dimensional electronic band, and the electrons within this band become mobile when it is partially emptied. The band structures of conductive polymers can easily be calculated with a tight binding model. In principle, these same materials can be doped by reduction, which adds electrons to an otherwise unfilled band. In practice, most organic conductors are doped oxidatively to give p-type materials. The redox doping of organic conductors is analogous to the doping of silicon semiconductors, whereby a small fraction silicon atoms are replaced by electron-rich, e.g., phosphorus, or electron-poor, e.g., boron, atoms to create n-type and p-type semiconductors, respectively.

Although typically "doping" conductive polymers involves oxidizing or reducing the material, conductive organic polymers associated with a protic solvent may also be "self-doped."

Undoped conjugated polymers state are semiconductors or insulators. In such compounds, the energy gap can be > 2 eV, which is too great for thermally activated conduction. Therefore, undoped conjugated polymers, such as polythiophenes, polyacetylenes only have a low electrical conductivity of around 10−10 to 10−8 S/cm. Even at a very low level of doping (< 1%), electrical conductivity increases several orders of magnitude up to values of around 0.1 S/cm. Subsequent doping of the conducting polymers will result in a saturation of the conductivity at values around 0.1–10 kS/cm for different polymers. Highest values reported up to now are for the conductivity of stretch oriented polyacetylene with confirmed values of about 80 kS/cm. [15] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] Although the pi-electrons in polyacetylene are delocalized along the chain, pristine polyacetylene is not a metal. Polyacetylene has alternating single and double bonds which have lengths of 1.44 and 1.36 Å, respectively. [24] Upon doping, the bond alteration is diminished in conductivity increases. Non-doping increases in conductivity can also be accomplished in a field effect transistor (organic FET or OFET) and by irradiation. Some materials also exhibit negative differential resistance and voltage-controlled "switching" analogous to that seen in inorganic amorphous semiconductors.

Despite intensive research, the relationship between morphology, chain structure and conductivity is still poorly understood. [21] Generally, it is assumed that conductivity should be higher for the higher degree of crystallinity and better alignment of the chains, however this could not be confirmed for polyaniline and was only recently confirmed for PEDOT, [25] [26] which are largely amorphous.

Properties and applications

Due to their poor processability, conductive polymers have few large-scale applications. They have promise in antistatic materials [2] and they have been incorporated into commercial displays and batteries, but there have been limitations due to the manufacturing costs, material inconsistencies, toxicity, poor solubility in solvents, and inability to directly melt process. Literature suggests they are also promising in organic solar cells, printing electronic circuits, organic light-emitting diodes, actuators, electrochromism, supercapacitors, chemical sensors and biosensors, [27] flexible transparent displays, electromagnetic shielding and possibly replacement for the popular transparent conductor indium tin oxide. Another use is for microwave-absorbent coatings, particularly radar-absorptive coatings on stealth aircraft. Conducting polymers are rapidly gaining attraction in new applications with increasingly processable materials with better electrical and physical properties and lower costs. The new nano-structured forms of conducting polymers particularly, augment this field with their higher surface area and better dispersability. Research reports showed that nanostructured conducting polymers in the form of nanofibers and nanosponges, showed significantly improved capacitance values as compared to their non-nanostructured counterparts. [28] [29]

With the availability of stable and reproducible dispersions, PEDOT and polyaniline have gained some large-scale applications. While PEDOT (poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene)) is mainly used in antistatic applications and as a transparent conductive layer in form of PEDOT:PSS dispersions (PSS=polystyrene sulfonic acid), polyaniline is widely used for printed circuit board manufacturing – in the final finish, for protecting copper from corrosion and preventing its solderability. [3] Moreover, Polyindole is also starting to gain attention for various applications due to its high redox activity, [30] thermal stability, [29] and slow degradation properties than competitors polyaniline and polypyrrole. [31]


Electroluminescence is light emission stimulated by electric current. In organic compounds, electroluminescence has been known since the early 1950s, when Bernanose and coworkers first produced electroluminescence in crystalline thin films of acridine orange and quinacrine. In 1960, researchers at Dow Chemical developed AC-driven electroluminescent cells using doping. In some cases, similar light emission is observed when a voltage is applied to a thin layer of a conductive organic polymer film. While electroluminescence was originally mostly of academic interest, the increased conductivity of modern conductive polymers means enough power can be put through the device at low voltages to generate practical amounts of light. This property has led to the development of flat panel displays using organic LEDs, solar panels, and optical amplifiers.

Barriers to applications

Since most conductive polymers require oxidative doping, the properties of the resulting state are crucial. Such materials are salt-like (polymer salt), which diminishes their solubility in organic solvents and water and hence their processability. Furthermore, the charged organic backbone is often unstable towards atmospheric moisture. The poor processability for many polymers requires the introduction of solubilizing or substituents, which can further complicate the synthesis.

Experimental and theoretical thermodynamical evidence suggests that conductive polymers may even be completely and principally insoluble so that they can only be processed by dispersion. [3]

Most recent emphasis is on organic light emitting diodes and organic polymer solar cells. [32] The Organic Electronics Association is an international platform to promote applications of organic semiconductors. Conductive polymer products with embedded and improved electromagnetic interference (EMI) and electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection have led to both prototypes and products. For example, Polymer Electronics Research Center at University of Auckland is developing a range of novel DNA sensor technologies based on conducting polymers, photoluminescent polymers and inorganic nanocrystals (quantum dots) for simple, rapid and sensitive gene detection. Typical conductive polymers must be "doped" to produce high conductivity. As of 2001, there remains to be discovered an organic polymer that is intrinsically electrically conducting. [33]

See also

Related Research Articles

Organic electronics

Organic electronics is a field of materials science concerning the design, synthesis, characterization, and application of organic small molecules or polymers that show desirable electronic properties such as conductivity. Unlike conventional inorganic conductors and semiconductors, organic electronic materials are constructed from organic (carbon-based) small molecules or polymers using synthetic strategies developed in the context of organic and polymer chemistry. One of the promised benefits of organic electronics is their potential low cost compared to traditional inorganic electronics. Attractive properties of polymeric conductors include their electrical conductivity that can be varied by the concentrations of dopants. Relative to metals, they have mechanical flexibility. Some have high thermal stability.

Molecular electronics is the study and application of molecular building blocks for the fabrication of electronic components. It is an interdisciplinary area that spans physics, chemistry, and materials science. The unifying feature is use of molecular building blocks to fabricate electronic components. Due to the prospect of size reduction in electronics offered by molecular-level control of properties, molecular electronics has generated much excitement. It provides a potential means to extend Moore's Law beyond the foreseen limits of small-scale conventional silicon integrated circuits.

Molecular engineering

Molecular engineering is an emerging field of study concerned with the design and testing of molecular properties, behavior and interactions in order to assemble better materials, systems, and processes for specific functions. This approach, in which observable properties of a macroscopic system are influenced by direct alteration of a molecular structure, falls into the broader category of “bottom-up” design.

OLED light-emitting diode (LED) in which the emissive electroluminescent layer is a film of organic compound that emits light in response to an electric current.

An organic light-emitting diode (OLED) is a light-emitting diode (LED) in which the emissive electroluminescent layer is a film of organic compound that emits light in response to an electric current. This organic layer is situated between two electrodes; typically, at least one of these electrodes is transparent. OLEDs are used to create digital displays in devices such as television screens, computer monitors, portable systems such as smartphones, handheld game consoles and PDAs. A major area of research is the development of white OLED devices for use in solid-state lighting applications.

Indium tin oxide chemical compound

Indium tin oxide (ITO) is a ternary composition of indium, tin and oxygen in varying proportions. Depending on the oxygen content, it can either be described as a ceramic or alloy. Indium tin oxide is typically encountered as an oxygen-saturated composition with a formulation of 74% In, 18% O2, and 8% Sn by weight. Oxygen-saturated compositions are so typical, that unsaturated compositions are termed oxygen-deficient ITO. It is transparent and colorless in thin layers, while in bulk form it is yellowish to grey. In the infrared region of the spectrum it acts as a metal-like mirror.

Hideki Shirakawa Japanese scientist

Hideki Shirakawa is a Japanese chemist, engineer, and Professor Emeritus at the University of Tsukuba and Zhejiang University. He is best known for his discovery of conductive polymers. He was co-recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry jointly with Alan MacDiarmid and Alan Heeger.

Polythiophene polymer

Polythiophenes (PTs) are polymerized thiophenes, a sulfur heterocycle. They can become conductive when oxidized. The study of polythiophenes and related conductive polymers was recognized by the awarding of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Alan J. Heeger, Alan MacDiarmid, and Hideki Shirakawa "for the discovery and development of conductive polymers". The most notable property of these materials, electrical conductivity, results from the delocalization of electrons along the polymer backbone – hence the term "synthetic metals". Conductivity however is not the only interesting property resulting from electron delocalization. The optical properties of these materials respond to environmental stimuli, with dramatic color shifts in response to changes in solvent, temperature, applied potential, and binding to other molecules. Changes in both color and conductivity are induced by the same mechanism, twisting of the polymer backbone and disrupting conjugation, making conjugated polymers attractive as sensors that can provide a range of optical and electronic responses.

Organic semiconductors are solids whose building blocks are pi-bonded molecules or polymers made up by carbon and hydrogen atoms and – at times – heteroatoms such as nitrogen, sulfur and oxygen. They exist in form of molecular crystals or amorphous thin films. In general, they are electrical insulators, but become semiconducting when charges are either injected from appropriate electrodes, upon doping or by photoexcitation.

Alan MacDiarmid New Zealand chemist

Alan Graham MacDiarmid, ONZ FRS was a New Zealand-born American chemist, and one of three recipients of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2000.

Alan J. Heeger American chemist, physicist

Alan Jay Heeger is an American physicist, academic and Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry.

Flexible organic light-emitting diode

A flexible organic light-emitting diode (FOLED) is a type of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) incorporating a flexible plastic substrate on which the electroluminescent organic semiconductor is deposited. This enables the device to be bent or rolled while still operating. Currently the focus of research in industrial and academic groups, flexible OLEDs form one method of fabricating a rollable display.

PEDOT:PSS polymer

PEDOT:PSS or poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) polystyrene sulfonate is a polymer mixture of two ionomers. One component in this mixture is made up of sodium polystyrene sulfonate which is a sulfonated polystyrene. Part of the sulfonyl groups are deprotonated and carry a negative charge. The other component poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) or PEDOT is a conjugated polymer and carries positive charges and is based on polythiophene. Together the charged macromolecules form a macromolecular salt.

PEDOT-TMA chemical compound

Poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene)-tetramethacrylate or PEDOT-TMA is a p-type conducting polymer based on 3,4-ethylenedioxylthiophene or the EDOT monomer. It is a modification of the PEDOT structure. Advantages of this polymer relative to PEDOT are that it is dispersible in organic solvents, and it is non-corrosive. PEDOT-TMA was developed under a contract with the National Science Foundation, and it was first announced publicly on April 12, 2004. The trade name for PEDOT-TMA is Oligotron. PEDOT-TMA was featured in an article entitled "Next Stretch for Plastic Electronics" that appeared in Scientific American in 2004. The U.S. Patent office issued a patent protecting PEDOT-TMA on April 22, 2008.

Organic photovoltaic devices (OPVs) are fabricated from thin films of organic semiconductors, such as polymers and small-molecule compounds, and are typically on the order of 100 nm thick. Because polymer based OPVs can be made using a coating process such as spin coating or inkjet printing, they are an attractive option for inexpensively covering large areas as well as flexible plastic surfaces. A promising low cost alternative to conventional solar cells made of crystalline silicon, there is a large amount of research being dedicated throughout industry and academia towards developing OPVs and increasing their power conversion efficiency.

Transparent conducting film

Transparent conducting films (TCFs) are thin films of optically transparent and electrically conductive material. They are an important component in a number of electronic devices including liquid-crystal displays, OLEDs, touchscreens and photovoltaics. While indium tin oxide (ITO) is the most widely used, alternatives include wider-spectrum transparent conductive oxides (TCOs), conductive polymers, metal grids and random metallic networks, carbon nanotubes (CNT), graphene, nanowire meshes and ultra thin metal films.

Conducting polymer metal nanocomposites are.


A chemiresistor is a material that changes its electrical resistance in response to changes in the nearby chemical environment. Chemiresistors are a class of chemical sensors that rely on the direct chemical interaction between the sensing material and the analyte. The sensing material and the analyte can interact by covalent bonding, hydrogen bonding, or molecular recognition. Several different materials have chemiresistor properties: metal-oxide semiconductors, some conductive polymers, and nanomaterials like graphene, carbon nanotubes and nanoparticles. Typically these materials are used as partially selective sensors in devices like electronic tongues or electronic noses.


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Further reading