Nanostructured Polymeric Materials
Nanostructured polymers are a class of soft materials, not unlike small molecule surfactants, lipids and proteins, which can undergo spontaneous self-assembly into nanometer-sized domains. Polymers are pervasive in everyday life, from electronics to disposable products to medical equipment. Nanostructured polymers span many diverse and cutting-edge research areas such as nanolithography, organic semiconductors, drug delivery devices, and battery membranes. The Robertson Research Group works at the interface between polymer chemistry and polymer physics to design nanostructured materials for a variety of applications. Two current areas of emphasis are as follows:
Polymers Derived from Renewable Resources
The vast majority of polymers utilized are presently synthesized from petroleum feedstocks. The world supply of petroleum is finite and in the future it will be necessary to turn to sustainable alternative resources for polymer raw materials. The library of currently available synthetic polymers has an astounding diversity in physical properties, developed through decades of research. Though bio-based plastics are growing in number, their application is still limited due to the relatively small number of monomers that can be utilized. The goals of this research program are to:
Apply new and existing synthetic strategies to non-traditional monomers such as triglycerides, fatty acids, plant sugar-based molecules, and microbially-synthesized molecules.
Probe the physical properties of and thermodynamic interactions between biorenewable polymers including structural characterization with small angle scattering techniques.
Develop materials with superior properties for a plethora of applications including but not limited to drug delivery devices, organic semiconductors, and engineering plastics and elastomers.
Biodegradable Polymers for Biomedical Applications
A select group of polymers (whether renewable resource or petroleum derived) are biodegradable through a variety of mechanisms such as enzymatic degradation, hydrolysis, or microbial processes. This not only has environmental implications, but can be exploited in biomedical devices like drug delivery vehicles, heart stents, and resorbable sutures. Research efforts in this area will include:
Functionalization of amphiphilic polymers with reactive entities, and investigation of their controlled coupling and resulting morphological changes for use as organic nanoreactors and controlled drug delivery devices.
Characterization of the relevant thermodynamic and kinetic processes that govern the evolution of the polymer characteristics and resulting nanostructures during degradation.
Determination of the effect of polymer-drug interactions on the efficacy of materials used in drug delivery.