The research in Prof. Jasper van der Gucht’s group focuses primarily on soft networks, gels, and composite materials that are formed by the spontaneous organization (or self-assembly) of macromolecules. We design new types of block copolymers with motifs that self-assemble in such a way that networks are formed in response to a certain trigger. These motifs may be bio-inspired (e.g. by collagen, silk, or elastin) or synthetic (e.g. hydrophobic, charged, or metal-coordinating). We also study composite networks, in which different functionalities are combined.
The central questions are:
• How does the structure of the materials at the nano- and microscale depend on the architecture of the (macro-)molecular components and on the interactions between the self-assembling blocks?
• How can we relate this microscopic structure to the mechanical or rheological properties of the material?
• When and how does such a soft material fail or yield under an applied stress?
• Can we use this knowledge to design new materials, with desired properties, such as high strength, responsiveness, or self-healing behavior, using renewable or biocompatible resources?
To answer these questions we combine various techniques: (bio-)synthesis of well-defined block copolymers; single-molecule force measurements to determine interactions; microscopy, scattering, and atomic force microscopy to determine structure; dynamic light scattering and rheology to study dynamic and mechanical properties; and theory and simulations to link all these together.