The MRSEC research teams aim to understand, harness and exploit the dynamic processes related to the aggregation of multicomponent particulate and macromolecular assemblies as a significant frontier in materials research. Interdisciplinary teams comprised of leading researchers in materials theory, synthesis, processing and applications are exploring two major themes, described below. A vibrant Seed funding program enables the extension of MRSEC's scope to new areas of soft matter research for early career researchers.
The fundamental understanding, design and application of the new classes of materials gained through IRG1 and IRG2 research will have implications in diverse endeavors of science, technology and medicine. MRSEC will transform these implications into realities by deliberately and aggressively marketing innovations such as entrepreneurial fellowships and business plan competitions. A comprehensive training, educational and outreach apparatus takes advantage of the very high level of scholarship in materials research and related areas (biotechnology, optics and photonics, and environmental sciences) in the Research Triangle area. Importantly, MRSEC educational and training efforts will bolster not only fundamental materials science offerings and activities across the Research Triangle, but will also provide a focal point for materials innovations in the service of societal needs.
IRG1: Multicomponent Colloidal Assembly by Comprehensive Interaction Design. The goal of IRG1 is to develop a fundamental understanding of self-assembly of bulk materials from multi-component colloidal suspensions.
The results of the research in IRG1 will make possible the fabrication of new classes of soft matter and composites with precisely controlled microstructures and unique properties. After processes for assembly of new particle crystals and networks are developed, these will be converted into permanent solid materials by using knowledge and methods developed both in IRG1 and IRG2. The range of functional hybrid materials that can be obtained from colloidal architectures produced by programmed assembly include photonic and phononic crystals, metamaterials, flexible conductive transparent electrodes for solar cells and rechargeable batteries, catalyst supports and membranes, thermoelectrics, and engineered substrata for 3-D and mechanical control of cell culture.
IRG2: Genetically Encoded Polymer Syntax for Programmable Self-Assembly. The overall goal of IRG2 is to learn, through experiment, theory, and simulation, the syntactical rules for the design of "syntactomers” whose phase behaviors facilitate programming of their self-assembly into supramolecular nano- to mesoscale structures.
Syntactomers developed in IRG2 will offer new opportunities for the tunable control of macromolecule sequence, structure, self-assembly, and function. At a fundamental level, the insights gained will foster a deeper understanding of the structure-property relationships of polymers and proteins, as they bridge the syntactic complexity embodied by these two classes of macromolecules. The study of syntactomers will shed light on outstanding questions in polymer science, such as the effect of syntax on the morphological diversity of self-assembled polymer systems, and the emergence of hierarchical self-assembly in synthetic polymers. By studying how the syntax of a syntactomer relates to its hierarchical self-assembly, IRG2 may also contribute indirectly to the frontiers of protein folding. The syntactomers developed by IRG2 will also have significant technological impact, as this new class of macromolecules will be used to create new materials for applications including drug delivery vehicles, programmable mesoscale reactors, actuators, nanoscale containers, nanofibers, switchable membranes, functional connectors, hydrogels,and scaffolds for mineralization, tissue implants or 3-D cell culture.