We summarize our recent studies employing the cyclic starch derivatives called cyclodextrins (CDs) to both nanostructure and functionalize polymers. Two important structural characteristics of CDs are taken advantage of to achieve these goals. First the ability of CDs to form noncovalent inclusion complexes (ICs) with a variety of guest molecules, including many polymers, by threading and inclusion into their relatively hydrophobic interior cavities, which are roughly cylindrical with diameters of ? 0.5 ? 1.0 nm. ?-, ?-, and ?-CD contain six, seven, and eight ?-1,4-linked glucose units, respectively. Warm water washing of polymer-CD–ICs containing polymer guests insoluble in water or treatment with amylase enzymes serves to remove the host CDs and results in the coalescence of the guest polymers into solid samples. When guest polymers are coalesced from the CD–ICs by removing their host CDs, they are observed to solidify with structures, morphologies, and even conformations that are distinct from bulk samples made from their solutions and melts. Molecularly mixed, intimate blends of two or more polymers that are normally immiscible can be obtained from their common CD–ICs, and the phase segregation of incompatible blocks can be controlled (suppressed or increased) in CD–IC coalesced block copolymers. In addition, additives may be more effectively delivered to polymers in the form of their crystalline CD–ICs or soluble CD–rotaxanes. Secondly, the many hydroxyl groups attached to the exterior rims of CDs, in addition to conferring water solubility, provide an opportunity to covalently bond them to polymers either during their syntheses or via postpolymerization reactions. Polymers containing CDs in their backbones or attached to their side chains are observed to more readily accept and retain additives, such as dyes and fragrances. Processing with CDs can serve to both nanostructure and functionalize polymers, leading to greater understanding of their behaviors and to new properties and applications.
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