Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards
Organisation: Nottingham Trent University
Dates: Jan 2013-Dec 2017
Summary: As a university academic I explore how small chemical molecules and large molecules such as proteins direct the formation of materials. Laboratory reaction conditions are used that mimic those found in the living organisms that make biominerals. The approach is termed ‘biomimetics’. In this approach, chemical reactions are performed in reaction vessels in the laboratory at room temperature, in water at around neutral pH, with organic chemicals or biomolecules such as proteins being added to the reaction mixture. The ‘additives’ modify the structures and properties of the materials that form. Using this approach new polymeric, siliceous, metallic and mineral containing materials have been created. Examples of the biomolecules used include spider silk proteins, smaller protein fragments known as peptides and antibiotics. The interaction of the new materials with the environment in which they are to be used has also been explored.
In all of our studies we try to understand the role or roles that the chemical molecules or biomolecules play in determining the structure and properties of the materials that are formed and look for patterns in behaviour. The ‘design principles’ that we find help us to create new syntheses for materials where we are able to predict their likely properties before we make the materials themselves. Applications of these materials are as diverse as implants for use in the human body, new antibacterial surfaces, new catalysts to make chemical reactions go faster, new materials for food or drug processing and delivery, new materials for performance sports and new materials for the next generation of flexible electronics. For all of these applications the interface or boundary between the molecules or biomolecules used in the synthesis and the solid materials is key to their success.