Self-assembled Polymer Networks ( Jasper van der Gucht)

The research in Prof. Jasper van der Gucht's group focuses primarily on soft networks, gels, and composite materials that are formed by the spontaneous organization (or self-assembly) of macromolecules. We design new types of block copolymers with motifs that self-assemble in such a way that networks are formed in response to a certain trigger. These motifs may be bio-inspired (e.g. by collagen, silk, or elastin) or synthetic (e.g. hydrophobic, charged, or metal-coordinating).  We also study composite networks, in which different functionalities are combined.

The central questions are:

• How does the structure of the materials at the nano- and microscale depend on the architecture of the (macro-)molecular components and on the interactions between the self-assembling blocks?

• How can we relate this microscopic structure to the mechanical or rheological properties of the material?

• When and how does such a soft material fail or yield under an applied stress?

• Can we use this knowledge to design new materials, with desired properties, such as high strength, responsiveness, or self-healing behavior, using renewable or biocompatible resources?

To answer these questions we combine various techniques: (bio-)synthesis of well-defined block copolymers; single-molecule force measurements to determine interactions; microscopy, scattering, and atomic force microscopy to determine structure; dynamic light scattering and rheology to study dynamic and mechanical properties; and theory and simulations to link all these together.

Current Research Projects