The University of Virginia is partnering with global packaging leader MeadWestvaco Corporation to improve resealable product packaging.
The Richmond-based corporation is supporting the development of a new material invented by Louis A. Bloomfield, professor and associate chair of the Physics Department in U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences, for its potential to transform packaging adhesives.
Bloomfield describes his new material, an advanced silicone rubber, as the “molecular equivalent of Velcro.” The material’s unusual molecular structure allows it to behave differently in the long and short terms. That is, while the material can maintain a permanent shape, such as an adhesive strip along the inside of a product container, it can also change shape temporarily, like it might to create a tight seal.
“Sheets of this new material bind together on contact, but separate easily when you pull them apart,” Bloomfield said. “Moreover, those sheets cling only to one another and barely adhere to anything else. Finger prints, dust and dirt just brush or rinse away,” leaving the material free to tightly adhere time and again.
Used in packaging, the material could give companies a competitive edge, said Paul France, vice president of innovation systems at MWV.
“Through open innovation, we collaborate externally with other researchers and scientists to generate creative solutions to packaging challenges, including in the large, global packaging market,” France said. “Our consumer research tells us that reclosing packages is one of the top issues for consumers, so we are glad to work with U.Va. Innovation and Dr. Bloomfield to explore the commercial potential of this material for use as a packaging reclosure.”
As part of the University’s partnership with MWV, the company is sponsoring an intense, three-month research effort in Bloomfield’s lab. It also has entered into a one-year agreement with the U.Va. Licensing & Ventures Group, part of the University’s U.Va. Innovation initiative dedicated to technology commercialization, to access and evaluate the multi-patent portfolio behind the invention.
“Our goal through the end of the year is to make working prototypes of the packaging closures, optimize some of the formulations and application schemes, and solve many of the technical challenges we’ll encounter as we work to move this idea out of the laboratory and into commercial use,” Bloomfield said.
The U.Va. Licensing & Ventures Group is actively pursuing commercialization of Bloomfield’s material in a number of additional areas, such as prosthetics, gloves, sports equipment, toys and orthotics.
“Through this partnership with MWV, we’re able to combine Lou’s passion and expertise with the knowledge and skills of a global industry leader in packaging, all without leaving the commonwealth,” said Michael P. Straightiff, director of the U.Va. Licensing & Ventures Group. “We look forward to working with MWV to bring this innovative material to the marketplace.”