Research

The Macfarlane lab is focused on the self-assembly of nanoscopic components as a means of tuning the bulk properties of composite materials. In order to achieve this goal, we are broadly interested in the research areas of soft matter, self-assembly, nanoparticle synthesis, polymer chemistry, and biomaterials.

The nanoscale building blocks we use range from inorganic nanoparticles to synthetic polymers to biomolecules like DNA, and the materials we aim to develop possess interesting optical, chemical, electrical, and mechanical properties. The emergent properties of these structures will have significant impact in energy research via light manipulation (e.g. photonic band gaps or plasmonic metamaterials), electronic device fabrication (e.g. semiconducting substrates or data storage devices), and environmental and medical research (e.g. hydrogels for sustained drug delivery). (Click on Research Area titles for links to more detailed descriptions.)

Research Area #1: Self-Assembling Nanocomposite Tectons (NCTs)

Nanocomposites enable the integration of nanoscale phenomena into functional, macroscopic materials with carefully controlled spatial configuration of the constituents. Self-assembly of smaller building blocks which are themselves composites (Nanocomposite Tectons, NCTs) is a powerful method for synthesizing nanocomposites because structure and composition can be precisely controlled on multiple length scales.

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Research Area #2: Hybrid Inorganic/Polymer Hydrogels

Composite hydrogels are synthesized from both flexible and rigid components; individual building block properties (size, shape, rigidity, etc.) are examined as a means of controlling bulk hydrogel mechanical properties for biological applications.

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Research Area #3: The Materials Science of Nanoparticles as “Programmable Atom Equivalents”

DNA-grafted particles are used to generate ordered superlattices where nanoparticle identity, crystallographic symmetry, and lattice parameters are independently controllable with nanometer-scale precision. Combining this bottom-up self-assembly with top-down lithographic patterning, epitaxial thin films are created with controllable crystal domain and thickness.

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