Rational design of nanomaterials from assembly and reconfigurability of polymer-tethered nanoparticles
Written by Aditi Risbud
On Tuesday evening, Sharon C. Glotzer of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor gave the MRS Communications Award lecture, based on her winning paper reviewing the recent advances in assembly and reconfigurability of polymer-based nanostructures.
At the start of her talk, Glotzer recognized the significant contribution of her co-authors Ryan L. Marson and Trung Dac Nguyen, noting it was their idea to develop a perspective and retrospective article on the use of polymer tethers to self-assemble nanoparticles into interesting structures. She also dedicated the talk to her mentor David Chandler, who passed away on Tuesday.
“Civilizations back to the dawn of man are defined by the materials that are available to the people of the time, and if you go from the stone to the bronze to the silicon age, our ability to master the materials available to us has always defined the world we live in,” said Glotzer. “So, going forward, what materials will define our civilization? Will it be those we find around, or those that we design to be tailor-made for specific functions and purposes?”
In the future, new materials will be designed and programmed, rich with information and able to be made on demand with target properties and behavior. This “personalized materials” strategy is akin to personalized or precision medicine, in which medicine is targeted to our individual genomes. Glotzer calls this new era the “diamond age.”
Glotzer discussed her particular interest in understanding the role of polymer tethers, short chains similar in size to a nanoparticle that were grafted to a nanoparticle surface, in assembling nanoparticles. These “surfactants on steroids” could be used to combine the best knowledge from nanoparticle and “patchy” particle self-assembly, liquid crystals, surfactants, and block co-polymers.
Next, Glotzer described how her group collaborates with various experimental researchers to use tethers as nanoparticle building blocks and control the shape, size, and composition of nanoscale building blocks for high yield and uniformity. As a theorist, Glotzer’s approach is to probe the “infinite design space” and ask “what are the most important attributes of the nanoparticles and their tethers that lead to self-assembly?”
Through a series of examples, she then presented the role of computer simulation in discovering the fundamental principles of assembly science and providing critical design tools for assembly engineering of complex nanostructured materials. In summary, Glotzer said these examples illustrated what happens when organic tethers and inorganic nanoparticles are combined and used to explore the “alchemical dimensions” of nanomaterial self-assembly.
The 2017 MRS Communications Lecture recognizes excellence in the field of materials research through work published in MRS Communications. It is intended to honor the authors of an outstanding paper published in the journal during the award year. Read Glotzer’s winning MRS Communications paper here.