Soft functional materials

Academic staff: Dr BarkerDr BiaginiDr ClarkDr GeeDr HolderDr PalmaDr SerpellDr HiscockDr Shepherd, Prof. Went

One of the most exciting areas of contemporary materials research is the design of “soft” functional materials organised at the nanoscale, where one is concerned with the synthesis of such materials through the use of organic, organometallic, polymer and inorganic chemistry. The functionality in these materials comes from one and/or two properties: (i) the self-assembly of varying constituent molecular or macromolecular subunits; (ii) the incorporation of biologically derived motifs. There is a great potential to design nanostructured materials by using their inherent molecular structure and function to impose order from the nano- to macro-scale.

Fig. 1: Block copolymers Fig. 2: Polymer nanostructures

A range of synthetic skills may be brought to bear from the FMG’s members (peptide, ligand, polymer, heterocyclic, organometallic and inorganic synthesis). Fully equipped synthetic laboratories with the associated characterisation techniques are available (NMR spectroscopy, FT-IR, UV-Vis, DLS, zeta potential, electrophoresis, polarimetry, surface tension). Analysis of their thermal, optical and mechanical properties are all available, as well as assessing a new material’s optical, associative and electrochemical properties. The actual organisation of self-assembling materials can be examined by a number of means including DSC, DMTA, polarising optical microscopy, X-ray diffraction, dynamic NMR spectroscopy and electron microscopy.  The materials being developed include self-assembling and bioactive nanostructures, new types of chemical sensor, soft robotics, therapeutic delivery systems, molecular radical materials, and tools for manipulating cells. A new focus within this theme is designing self-assembling materials for biomaterial applications, such as peptide-based block copolymers for tissue scaffolding, for biomineralisation templating, and for biomimetic properties (e.g. enzymatic catalysis). We collaborate extensively with other Schools at Kent (Biosciences, and Engineering and Digital Arts, for example), as well as externally with other academics across the UK and internationally.