Complex coacervates

Exploring polyelectrolyte complexation and its applications

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Complex coacervate adhesives

In this project, we study the fundamentals and applications of underwater adhesion, using complex coacervates as a model system. On one end, we focus on the incorporation of different functionalities into the coacervate glues: for example, thermoresponsive PNIPAM, adhesive catechol moieties, and hydrophobic charge-protection groups. All these variations have a different effect on the material properties and adhesion. On the other end, we develop applications of these glues, such as a medical adhesive applied on skin via the rehydration of biopolymer-based coacervates.

People: Larissa van Westerveld, Jiayi Liu

Plant protection products

The demand for chemical pesticides has shot up significantly in recent decades despite the evident risks they pose to human health. There is a pressing need to switch to more environmentally friendly pest management techniques to prevent the immediate and long-term effects of pesticide exposure. Trichomes are hair-like structures on the surface of some plants that function as a physical and chemical natural defense mechanism. They can physically deter the motion of insects and immobilize them while some trichomes can also secrete adhesive compounds that can act as poisonous insect traps. Taking inspiration from nature, we aim to imitate this sticky behavior with the principle of polyelectrolyte complexation to develop trichome mimics. Mixing oppositely charged polyelectrolytes to create complexes is a simple yet promising solution in this regard.

People: Abinaya Arunachalam

Complex coacervate fibers

Biology uses proteins in the construction of materials with many different structures and properties. Examples of these are the tough fibres of keratin and spider silk, or the crosslinked three-dimensional structure of gluten. The properties of these materials depend not only on their chemical structure, but also on their processing. In our project, we use synthetic polyelectrolytes, proteins, and combinations of both to emulate these natural biomaterials. Our aim is to develop high performance fibrous materials that can be processed in green conditions, and to understand the relationship between different processing techniques and their final structure.

People: Jianwu Sun, Guillermo Monreal Santiago, Armin Amirsadeghi