The Center is organized to pursue the discovery of new materials phenomena and the creation of new materials paradigms, with research carried out in two main areas. IRG1: Liquid Crystal Frontiers research is directed toward the creation, understanding, development, and application of novel soft materials, with LC ordering as an underlying theme. IRG2: Click Nucleic Acids research is focused on sequence-directed self-assembly using functional analogs of DNA created using click chemistry. Each IRG combines molecular modeling and design, synthesis, physical studies, and applications development into an integrated, multidisciplinary, collaborative research effort.
The study and application of LCs stands as a central discipline of soft materials science, providing the conceptual framework for understanding and describing a wide variety of structural and dynamic behavior. IRG1 research is directed toward the creation, understanding, and application of novel soft materials with liquid crystal organization as an underlying theme, and is organized into three major project areas: Molecular/Macroscopic, Functional Liquid Crystal Assemblies, and Active Soft Interfaces.
• Molecular/Macroscopic – This project focuses on the discovery of new LC structural paradigms; understanding the molecular origins of the macroscopic characteristics of LC systems; and the synthesis and physical evaluation of new materials designed to exhibit chosen features of LC molecular organization. Liquid crystalline systems investigated include helical nanofilament phases of bent-core LCs, colloidal LCs of inorganic molecular monolayer sheets, topological colloids, and chromonic LCs.
• Functional Liquid Crystal Assemblies – The ordering and structural features of LC phases can be used to advantage in creating novel assemblies of molecules and other nanoscale objects with specific functionality. Investigations are being carried out on photopolymerized nanoporous room-temperature ionic LCs, active nematics, and nanoDNA LCs.
• Active Soft Interfaces – A principal goal of this project is to develop and explore novel interfaces that can be used to probe interfacial structure and interactions, and be used to detect chemical environment. Research topics include using LC orientation as a sensitive biosensing tool with visual readout for sequence-selective detection of nucleic acids, using azo-SAMs to explore the photofluidization of glasses, and understanding the interplay of bulk and surface LC order.
Nucleic acids (NAs) are extraordinary molecules, developed by life to store and transfer genetic information using sequence-directed duplexing. IRG2 is organized to carry out a broad exploration of the sequence-directed self-assembly of functional materials using Click Nucleic Acids (CNAs). CNAs are a new DNA analog system, invented by Center investigators, in which oligomer chains with DNA-style sequences of selected bases are synthesized using thiol-ene click chemistry. The resulting thio-ether backbone/base structure is similar in its essential geometry to that of DNA and other NA analogs such as peptide nucleic acid (PNA), enabling CNA to exhibit sequence-directed duplexing analogous to that of DNA, as predicted by atomistic molecular dynamic simulations and observed experimentally in complexation, gelation and biodetection studies. The synergistic combination of click chemistry and oligo-nucleotide synthesis has dramatic advantages in expanding sequence-directed assembly into the realm of practical materials science and technology. IRG2 research is organized into two major project areas: Design and Synthesis and Self-Assembly.
• Design and Synthesis – This project focuses on the creation and characterization of new CNA molecules. Research activities include developing highly scalable synthetic processes for CNAs, expanding the base alphabets, and controlling the backbone and side chains to tailor molecular functionality and compatibility.
• Self-Assembly – The principal aim of this project is the exploration of CNA sequence-directed self-assembly functionalities in a variety of interfacial and bulk applications, taking advantage of the enhanced programmability and design flexibility afforded by CNAs, in applications including nanotemplating and nanopatterning, nanoparticle organization, block copolymers, and hydrogels.