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Faculty Profiles

Richard Spontak

Nano Research Area

  • Nano-Energy & Environment
  • Nano-Characterization
  • Nano-Textiles
  • Nano-Materials & Engineering

Research Summary

Polymer nanotechnology relies on specialty materials that provide added functionality at nanoscale dimensions. Much of my research involves the study of macromolecules that can self-organize into supramolecular structures and thus focuses on block copolymers, macromolecules composed of at least two long, chemically dissimilar sequences. Due to thermodynamic incompatibility, these macromolecules behave like surfactants and self-assemble into a wide variety of nanostructures measuring on the order of tens of nanometers. Since the rate-limiting step in the study of block copolymers is tailored synthesis, we have established design strategies by which to tune copolymers by physical, rather than chemical, means.

Ordered copolymers can be used to (i) template the spatial distribution of nanoparticles or (ii) generate shape-memory gel networks, which show promise as dielectric elastomers. Similarly, copolymers can be used in electrospinning to generate surface-functionalized nano/microfibers, as well as with polymer thin films to effect interfacial modification. We are also interested in (i) low-molar-mass gelators that can likewise self-organize into nanofibrillar networks in soft polymers and (ii) silk fibroin that can reversibly form beta sheets alone or in blends with other natural or synthetic polymers. We have pioneered the use of electron tomography (3D TEM imaging) for the study of such materials.

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