The influence of sterilization technique and ageing on the structure and morphology of medical-grade ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene

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The effects of four sterilization treatments (gamma radiation in nitrogen, electron-beam radiation, ethylene oxide gas, and no sterilization) on the structure and morphology of ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) were monitored as a function of ageing time in air for a period of 1.5 y. Characterization techniques employed include differential scanning calorimetry, density gradient column, transmission electron microscopy, and small-angle X-ray scattering. Ethylene oxide gas does not affect the structure of the polymer. Both forms of radiation lead to measurable alterations of the material's structure, including an increase in crystallinity, an increase in density, and the enhancement of lamellae crystalline stacking. Most changes in structure occur in the first few months with little differences observed upon subsequent ageing in air. The sharpness of the crystalline-amorphous boundaries decreases with time for irradiated UHMWPE and is believed to be linked to the oxidation of the polymer.

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