Polymerization using electrostatic template now controllable

September 26, 2022

In their publication in Angewandte Chemie, TU/e researchers show they can switch the polymerization process on and off using a switchable template.

Image: Bas van Ravensteijn

Regulating the polymerization process is of great interest for both industrial, but also medical applications. In an article publish in Angewandte Chemie, TU/e Researchers show they not only control the process and are able to switch it on and off, but they can also control the properties of the resulting polymer materials.

Ilja Voets. Photo: Vincent van den Hoogen

Making polymers (long molecular strands) using a template has already been possible for quite some time. In the Self-Organising Soft Matter research group of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry at TU/e, research led by Professor Ilja Voets and Dr Bas van Ravensteijn has now shown that they can also switch the polymerization process on and off by using a switchable template.

With this, they can regulate the formation of the polymers and also influence the physical properties of the final template-polymer structures. In the long term, this offers the pharmaceutical industry the possibility of packaging sensitive genetic material (DNA, RNA, mRNA) or proteins in a more controlled manner, making them suitable for gene therapy and other medical purposes. An article on the invention of this phenomenon was published on  September 26 in the leading journal Angewandte Chemie, classified as top 10%.

Bas van Ravensteijn. Photo: Angeline Swinkels

This work looked at making polymers consisting of a part with no charge and a part with a negative charge in the presence of a positively charged molecular template. During polymerization, negatively charged monomers are  added step-wise to the part without charge.

The interactions between the forming polymers and the templates result in polymer structures several tens of nanometers in size. In these structures, the charged pieces are located in the core which is shielded from the environment by the charge-neutral polymer segments. The polymerization rate and thus the details of these structures depend on which path you choose: how often do I turn the template on or off, for example.

This work is expected to impact important application areas of these types of polymer structures, for example for the controlled encapsulation of sensitive therapeutic materials such as DNA, (m)RNA and proteins.

The article Switchable Electrostatically Templated Polymerization was first published in Angewandte Chemie on June 29, 2022.

Nicole van Overveld
(Science Information Officer)

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