Contacts: Dr. Roger Coulston & Jing Zhang, Chemistry (both i-Teams alumni)
Mentors: Dr. Julian White, Skalene

The next generation of “smart” materials will require molecular self-assembly to achieve the high degrees of functionality and complexity that are required for a wide range of applications. Such materials are already used as heat absorbers, self-healing paints, optical sensors and drug delivery mechanisms, and many other uses are possible.

The research collaboration led by Prof. Chris Abell and Dr. Oren Scherman has developed a new technique for manufacturing such functional materials in large volumes, using supramolecular stimuli-responsive polymers. Aqueous microfluidic droplets dispersed in oil are used as templates for building discrete supramolecular assemblies. These form large highly uniform microcapsule structures with interesting optical properties.


Different materials can be incorporated into the shell wall to vary the materials properties of the capsules. In addition, the hollow shells can be readily loaded with biological or industrially-relevant materials.

Advantages of this technique include the ability to control the porosity of the microcapsules (and hence the speed of passive release of the contents held inside the shells), and the ability to use environmental stimuli such as light, pH and temperature to trigger active release of the contents. If sensing materials are enclosed in the microcapsules, then the material can be used as a sensor to monitor manufacturing processes on a parts per billion scale.

The difficulty for the researchers is that each application will need a tailored set of microcapsules, which need to be developed and tested. They are looking to their i-Team to investigate and recommend the most commercially-viable applications of the new platform technology, to enable them to focus their efforts most effectively.