Plastics that are composed from organic networks are one of the most widely used materials. However, most polymer networks are difficult to manipulate once the material is formed. The research group of Professor Eva Harth at the University of Houston aims to develop robust synthetic methods for the fabrication of tiny organic network structures (of dimensions much smaller than the width of hair) with the ability to modify a parent structure into various other networks of different sizes and functions. The ability to add functions to, modify composition of, or expand the network to allow for repair would broaden the applications of nano-scale polymer networks. This interdisciplinary project educates graduate and undergraduate students in STEM fields. Rising high school seniors and seniors have the opportunity to engage in this research through the Welch Summer Scholars Program.

This project focuses on the preparation of photoresponsive nanomaterials and their manipulation in dimension, molecular weight and chemical functional groups. The research team of Professor Harth is establishing methods to synthesize photogrowable nanonetworks from a variety of degradable and non-degradable polymer backbones and cross-linking units containing trithiocarbonate units. Photoinduced polymerizations in the presence and absence of photoredox catalysts are utilized for the dynamic growth to expand the networks and introduce functional monomers into the existing schaffolds. Conditions of photo-controlled radical polymerizations for these expansion processes are thoroughly investigated as these determine the final dispersity of the network. Ultimately, this research is directed to test the capability and range of manipulation which is possible by applying photo-controlled radical polymerization techniques to generate the next generation of nano- and micron scale network materials.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Chemistry (CHE)
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Nicolay Tsarevsky
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University of Houston
United States
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