(7cx) Socially-Responsible Hybrid Materials: From Molecular Engineering to Practical Applications

Taheri Qazvini, N. - Presenter, University of Chicago
The increasing demand for new products, highly relevant for future technologies, has recently motivated the search for cost-effective novel materials with excellent mechanical stability and processability, adjustable conductivity, transparency, gas barrier properties, and tissue compatibility. Organic-inorganic nanocomposites with controlled hierarchical structures offer a particularly attractive platform for the development of such functional materials. In this regard, engineering the interactions in these systems to precisely control their assembly into scalable and stable materials becomes increasingly important. Based on this motivation, my research program will focus on the rational design, synthesis and structure-property relationships of novel hybrid materials. Specifically, my primary focus will be on developing environmentally and socially responsible organic-inorganic hybrid systems with lower production costs and competitive functionality in a wide variety of applications including water treatment, energy storage, and regenerative medicine.

My Ph.D. training is in Polymer Engineering where I worked on the correlation between cooperative segmental motion and mechanical properties in glassy polymer networks. After completing my Ph.D., I joined the University of Tehran where I served as an assistant professor and supervised 3 Ph.D. and 24 MSc projects on synthesis, rheology and the structure-property relationships of polymer bio-nanocomposites and soft materials. Throughout my career, I have built a network of international collaborations with well-recognized scientists. For instance, in collaboration with Mezzenga Lab at ETH Zürich, I have designed gelatin–graphene conductive biopolymer nanocomposites with a record-low electrical percolation threshold. I also collaborated with a multidisciplinary team at Harvard University to show that a liquid-to-solid transition, as in polymeric and colloidal systems, may dominate the mechanics of the cellular monolayer.

My current research with Prof. Juan de Pablo and Prof. Matthew Tirrell at The University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory involves designing soft materials based on charge complexation. Specifically, I have synthesized hybrid nanoparticles containing amorphous calcium phosphate nanoclusters and a biocompatible charged polymer. Through pH-induced electrostatic interactions, the aqueous dispersion of these hybrid nanoparticles forms an elastic colloidal gel that can be printed into well-defined 3D structures. Moreover, I have developed cost-effective, electrically conductive graphene-silicate hybrids with ultra-high thermal stability. These materials, in collaboration with the He group at The University of Chicago Medical Center, have been shown to be biocompatible and synergistically promote osteogenic differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells.

My mission is to establish an independent research group with the aim of obtaining design rules of cost-effective multifunctional materials from macromolecules and 2D building blocks. Utilizing my expertise in polymer physics, soft matter physics, and molecular engineering, my research group will pursue three research themes including: i) developing multilayer water purification membranes based on controlled assembly of biocompatible polymers and 2D materials; ii) development of novel soft glassy materials with tunable rheological and electrical properties from 2D building blocks and explore their application as 3D-printable inks, printed electronics, engineering coatings, flexible transparent electrodes, and other functional systems, and iii) synthesizing polymerizable double emulsions and colloidal capsules stabilized by 2D materials as a new route in the preparation of ultra-low density conductive polymers and development of new encapsulation technologies.

Research Interests: Polymer-based hybrid materials, self-assembly, rheology of soft materials, socially-responsible materials science and engineering

Teaching Interests: Physical chemistry of polymers, polymer engineering, hybrid materials, materials characterization