Block copolymers are all around us, found in such products as upholstery foam,adhesive tape and asphalt additives. This class of macromolecules is produced by joining two or more chemically distinct polymer blocks, each a linear series of identical monomers, that may be thermodynamically incompatible (like oil and vinegar). Segregation of these blocks on the molecular scale (5–100 nm) can produce astonishingly complex nanostructures, such as the “knitting pattern” shown on the cover of this issue of PHYSICS TODAY. This striking pattern, discovered by Reimund Stadler and his coworkers, reflects a delicate free‐energy minimization that is common to all block copolymer materials.
Advances in synthetic chemistry and statistical theory provide unparalleled control over molecular scale morphology in this class of macromolecules.