(491b) Functional Nanoscale Systems Using Block Polymers: Impacting Sustainability and Human Health through Self-Assembly

Epps, T. H. III, University of Delaware

Soft materials, such as polymers, colloids, surfactants, and liquid crystals, are a technologically important class of matter employed in a variety of applications. One sub-class of soft material, block polymers, provides the opportunity to design materials with attractive chemical and mechanical properties based on the ability to assemble into periodic structures with nanoscale features.  Several applications for block polymers currently under investigation in my group include battery and fuel cell membranes, analytical separations membranes, nano-tool templates, precursors to electronic arrays, and drug delivery vehicles.  In this talk, I will highlight recent areas of progress in my group related to (1) the design of renewable and sustainable block polymers for elastomer applications and (2) the synthesis and characterization of stimuli-responsive polymeric nanocapsules for gene therapy applications.  In the first area, we have developed several new methods for using waste products from the pulp and paper industry, such as lignin, to generate well-defined block polymers that can become potential low-cost, ‘green’, and high-performance replacements for current thermoplastic and thermosetting polymer materials.  In the second area, we have created novel block polymers that can encapsulate nucleic acids, deliver these precious payloads to cells, and release the nucleic acids on command in response to an external stimulus.  Our preliminary results indicate that these stimuli-responsive nanocapsules may be more effective than conventional transfections agents for gene therapy.  Though these appear to be two disparate topics, each area is linked by our understanding of self-assembly and nanoscale stability in macromolecular systems.