As active members of the Polymer Electronics Research Centre (PERC), much of our work has a strong focus on conducting polymers and polymer electronics. Our research also extends to other applications of polymer chemistry, with expertise in areas including polymer brushes, biosensors, and Atom Transfer Radical Polymerisation (ATRP). Much of our research is run in collaboration with the research groups from the School of Chemical Sciences, School of Biological Sciences and Engineering. Current and recent projects include:
Novel biosensors based on conducting polymers and nanoparticles
Gene sensors are rapidly becoming the most powerful way to accurately diagnose disease, discover mutations and monitor biotechnology processes in this post genomic era and the availability of label-free, fast and sensitive detection devices is of paramount importance to realise the promise of the gene array technology. The focus of this programme is on development of novel conducting polymer materials and other nano-materials, such as inorganic nanocrystal and, magnetic nanoparticles toward label-free and inexpensive gene sensing. Various functionalised conducting polymers have been synthesized, including photoluminescent polymers, which may provide simple, rapid and sensitive gene detection with intrinsic electrical and/or optical readouts.
Electrically switchable surfaces
New therapies for currently life-threatening conditions are possible using stem cells and tissue engineering. These treatments rely on tailored cell culture surfaces that can steer cellular behaviour. Our work aims to develop interfaces able to communicate directly with cells, by changing the interface characteristics in response to external stimuli. Many existing switchable surfaces rely on stimuli that are potentially harmful to living cells (temperature, pH). We are developing novel switchable surfaces controlled by low voltages applied to conductive polymer backbones able to interact with cells.
Novel tools for micro- and nano-fabrication and characterization
The emergence of conducting polymer nanostructures, with their important and wide-ranging applications in sensors, displays and coatings, has not been accompanied by an emergence of appropriate electrochemical nanoscale characterisation tools. We are developing micro- and nano-pipettes, as implemented in variants of the scanning ion conductance microscope, to address numerous questions such as fabrication of freestanding conducting polymer nanostructures, map electroactivity and conductivity, performing highly localised cyclic voltammetry and ion fluxes in polymer actuators.
Stretchable, adhesive and self-healing organic electronics
By functionalizing a conducting polymer with different types of polymer chains, materials can be made that are conducting, adhesive, stretchable and self-healing. The combination of these properties can be useful for many applications, such as optoelectronics, medical devices and soft robotics. They are achieved by grafting soft polymer side chains from the rigid conducting polymer backbone and by making smart use of reversible interactions like hydrogen bonding.
Electrospinning of elastomers and conducting polymers
Electrospinning is a simple and effective way to produce continuous micro/nanofibers. Our work focuses on further developing this technique with electrospinning elastomers and embedding these elastomer fibres with conducting polymers. Further modification of the fibres post electrospinning is also explored with such techniques as ATRP. Applications we have demonstrated and explored for such materials include; tunable filtration, sensing platforms, cardiac tissue engineering and more.