Polymers provide tremendous flexibility in designing chemical and nano-scale structures to achieve unprecedented functionality for mechanical, chemical, opto-electronic and biological applications. Polymer research at Rensselaer expands the domain of polymer functionality further using nano-composites containing inorganic nanoparticles, biomimetic chemistry for antimicrobial properties and biofilm removal, and fluorophore functionalization for sub-wavelength imaging and lithography.
Introduction of nanoparticles into polymers can impart dramatic changes of properties to the resulting nanocomposite materials, which are extremely sensitive to the spatial distribution or dispersion of the nanoparticles. Research at Rensselaer seeks nanocomposite materials with properties designed for mechanical, electrical and optical applications, controlling nanoparticle dispersion and polymer morphology using a variety of techniques including supercritical fluids to control porosity and photothermal effect from plasmonic nanoparticles for localized thermal processing. Complex interaction of nanostructures with biological systems further provide opportunities for nanomedical applications.
Synthetic polymers can follow design principles found in nature to deliver previously unattainable properties, especially in their interaction with biological systems. Sequence-controlled polymerization may facilitate the development of peptide-mimetic polymers that selectively kill bacterial cells, polymers that gel upon binding with bacteria for detecting them and self-immolative polymers that automatically depolymerize to get rid of biofilm. Introducing fluorescent molecules into polymers enables optical microscopy at previously-impossible sub-wavelength resolutions using the stimulated emission depletion (STED) technique. In combination with photoresist chemistry and interference patterns for collections of lasers, these could also facilitate scalable fabrication of periodic nanostructures for light harvesting, sensing and photodetection.