Crystal ageing in irradiated ultra high molecular weight polyethylene

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Medical grade ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) of two molecular weights has been γ irradiated in air to give received doses of 3.5 and 10 Mrad and aged in air for 25 months. Differential scanning calorimetry and wide and small angle X-ray diffraction (WAX and SAX) techniques and transmission electron microscopy have been used to characterize the materials. Polymer from an orthopaedic component, retrieved 10 years after implantation, has been subjected to the same analytical programme. The X-ray diffraction data shows that following irradiation two events occur with time, first a crystal refinement process, indicated by pronounced sharpening of the SAX peak, and secondly growth of a new crystal population of reduced lamellae thickness compared to the original crystal structures, shown by the development of a bimodal SAX pattern. Following irradiation crystallinity increases with time and this second crystal population makes a significant contribution to that increase. The retrieved component shows full development of these processes. It is considered that these crystallographic changes with time are responsible for the observed time dependent changes in the mechanical properties of air irradiated UHMWPE.

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