Research

Overview

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The Green laboratory is focused on integrating macromolecular design with controlled synthesis techniques to produce hierarchical and multifunctional materials. In particular, our lab is interested in understanding the interplay between electrostatic interactions and microstructure, inter-phase interactions, thermomechanical properties, and transport. Currently, we have active research efforts to apply these fundamental efforts to improving the water permeability through membranes for osmotically driven water purification, tailoring the surface activity of silicone surfactants and electrospun fibers, studying the polymer microphase separation of ion-containing block polymers, analyzing the ability of phase-separated ionomers to template nanoparticle location, developing innovative matrix chemistries for thermosets and nanocomposites, and engineering ionomer solution assemblies for biomedical therapies.

Water purification and desalination

desalination

 Polymeric membranes for filtration and desalination applications play a critical role in producing the billions of gallons of water required daily.  Current polymers used as water desalination membranes suffer from coupled water sorption and salt selectivity, which leads to membranes with either (1) high ion diffusion rates and low selectivity, or (2) highly selective membranes with poor diffusion rates.  Decoupling and optimizing water and ion transport in polymeric membranes is critical for reducing the energy costs of desalination devices.  Developing structure-property relationships that relate polymer morphology and chemical composition to water and ion sorption, transport behavior, and thermomechanical properties enables the design of high performance filtration membranes.  Specifically, controlled polymerization techniques facilitate precise structural control, which enables analysis of charge density; ion charge, size, and valence; the introduction and degree of crosslinking moieties; chemical, hydrolytic, and thermal stability; and polymer morphology with respect to water sorption and transport to expedite the discovery of groundbreaking desalination membranes.

Polyelectrolyte-based biomedical therapeutics

Immunostimulatory therapeutics

 Cancer produces a complex, critical, and multifaceted challenge in today’s global society.  The impact on human health combined with rapidly increasing healthcare expenditures make innovative and effective treatments vital.  However, a relatively low percentage of treatment strategies yield viable approaches that reach the clinic.  Immunotherapy offers several advantages, including: limited non-specific cell involvement, improved patient well-being during treatment, prolonged tumor regression, and efficacy against metastases that previously failed to respond to chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment.  Thus, development of a targeted therapy, such as charged block polymer conjugates, that stimulates the immune system to naturally fight the tumor offers significant potential for improved cancer treatment.  Additionally, the implications of this immunostimulatory treatment potentially translate to other infectious, allergenic, and oncologic diseases that inhibit natural immunogenic responses.

Mechanoresponsive polymer matrix composites

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The research goals of the proposed work are to investigate thermoset polymer matrix composites that deliver synthetic versatility, well-defined microstructures, and robust thermomechanical properties using a new design strategy. In particular, we will tune the nanoparticle-matrix interactions by varying the matrix chemistry and the surface functionalization of the nanoparticles. To potentially improve the understanding of composite failure mechanisms, we will incorporate complementary fluorescent nanoparticles that form Förster-resonance energy transfer (FRET) pairs, which will enable a temporal investigation of nanoparticle proximity and composite integrity under application-specific test conditions (e.g., elevated temperatures or applied tensile/shear stress). The microstructure, modulus, and optical properties can be tailored by adjusting the resin chemistry and the nanoparticle composition and loading.

Financial Supporters:

Army Research Office

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US Bureau of Reclamation

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