Research

We are interested in the synthesis of polymers and colloids, controlling their assembly behavior in bulk, emulsion and dilute solution, and the development of functional materials.

Many current needs of science and technology can be traced back to fundamental challenges in controlling the structure and chemistry of interfaces on the micro-, meso- and nanoscale. New concepts are in demand for the development of functional materials with defined interfaces and reduced transport pathways, e.g., for the structuring of novel cathode materials for high-performance batteries, porous scaffolds for enhanced energy conversion (catalysis, photovoltaic), water purification, hybrid nanomaterials for tissue engineering, and for the miniaturization of electronic devices. One promising strategy to tackle these challenges is the self-assembly of building blocks into ordered structures from the bottom-up allowing-in principle-the positioning of multiple components with high precision and user-defined complexity.

WHAT WE DO: Our group mainly operates in the fields of Polymer Science, Macromolecular Chemistry and Molecular Materials. These scientific disciplines are relatively young, but have already evolved into rapidly progressing areas of research for the development of functional materials. Materials often find use also in many related fields including photonics, nanomedicine, and energy conversion.

HOW WE DO IT: In nature, organisms grow materials from the bottom up utilizing molecular and nanoscale raw materials from the environment to construct highly functional biological devices, machines and entire systems. Inspired by these principles and the way materials form, our laboratory for polymer and colloid science focuses on the synthetic design of macromolecular and nanoscale building blocks for the autonomous formation of complex nano-systems with tailored functionality.

OUR AIMS: Using the concept of self-assembly, we synthetically program building blocks to respond to certain stimuli and come together to find their place in a variety of superstructures. This process is spontaneous, does not require any equipment, and is energy efficient. Thereby, one of the main goals is to encode building blocks from various sources (organic, inorganic, biological) with information about assembly time, their location, directionality, geometry and the number of self-assembly steps (hierarchies). The final material will show optical properties, high porosity or catalytic activity.

STARTING MATERIALS: We use controlled polymerization to specifically design block copolymers as one of our main structuring elements. ABC triblock terpolymers are a certain type of polymer architecture that spontaneously form nanoparticles with predefined geometry as well as nanomaterials with complex symmetry based on simple packing principles. Their synthesis requires special techniques that we teach and develop. We use block copolymers also to form microparticles with compartments and patchy surface. Colloids are particles in the range of 1-1000 nm and are our second type of building block. We synthesize complex colloids directly by means of emulsion polymerization. and complex colloids for hierarchical bottom up structuring of functional materials and hybrids.