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Shaped and Patterned Evolving Soft Materials by 4D-Printing Supramolecular Gels


   Department of Chemistry

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  Prof D K Smith  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Background

Supramolecular gels are fascinating soft materials that self-assemble from low-molecular-weight gelators via non-covalent interactions, with wide-ranging potential applications from nanoelectronics to tissue engineering.[1] A key feature of such materials is their ability to evolve and respond to different stimuli – this can switch gelation on and off, but also allow a gel to slowly evolve and adapt its structure.[2] Evolving gels have untapped capacity to interact with growing tissue and play dynamic roles in regenerative medicine.[3] In early work, supramolecular gels were simply formed in a sample vial, but recently attention has turned to ways of shaping and patterning these materials in order to unlock their full potential.[4] 3D-printing has recently started to emerge as an effective approach for shaping these materials.[5]

Objectives

This project aims to explore 3D-printing of multi-component supramolecular gels – their potential to dynamically evolve will be harnessed to achieve 4D-printing outcomes. We will print shapes and patterns in which different parts of the pattern evolve their properties over time – achieving both spatial and temporal resolution. Such materials have potential future applications in the dynamic control of stem cell growth.

Experimental Approach

Initially we will fully explore the dynamics of self-assembled gels[6] and gain a detailed structure-activity relationship understanding of how chemical programming directs component selection and self-assembly under different conditions. We will then develop an understanding of how these gels can be printed and explore different ways components can be combined during the printing process. We will hence print shaped and patterned gels which can dynamically evolve their composition and physical properties, such as mechanical stiffness, over time. Furthermore, we aim to load the shaped/paytterned gels with conducting systems and explore the evolution of conductivity.[7]

Although this project is a fundamental project designed to explore the relationship between dynamic supramolecular chemistry and soft materials engineering, there will be the opportunity to test the compatibility of the printed gels with stem cell growth in ongoing collaborative work with the laboratories of Professor Paul Genever (Department of Biology). In the future, we anticipate that the methods developed will be used to print evolving, potentially electroactive, materials that direct stem cell growth either in vitro or in vivo.

Training

This project will develop skills in organic synthesis, supramolecular chemistry and soft materials characterization methods, as well as assay design, and chemical engineering. There will be some chance to develop skills in cell growth and biomaterials research. The PhD student will be a member of the ‘MolMatYork’ group specializing in Molecular Materials research. The interests of this group span from energy and display screen technology through to drug delivery and tissue engineering. There are regular group meetings that help develop skills and understanding of a wide range of different materials. All Chemistry research students have access to our innovative Doctoral Training in Chemistry (iDTC): cohort-based training to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills: https://www.york.ac.uk/chemistry/postgraduate/cdts/

The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. The Department strives to provide a working environment which allows all staff and students to contribute fully, to flourish, and to excel: https://www.york.ac.uk/chemistry/ed/.

For more information about the project, click on the supervisor's name above to email the supervisor. For more information about the application process or funding, please click on email institution

This PhD will formally start on 1 October 2022. Induction activities may start a few days earlier.

To apply for this project, submit an online PhD in Chemistry application: https://www.york.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/courses/apply?course=DRPCHESCHE3

You should hold or expect to achieve the equivalent of at least a UK upper second class degree in Chemistry or a related subject.  Please check the entry requirements for your country: https://www.york.ac.uk/study/international/your-country/


Funding Notes

This studentship is fully funded for 3.5 years by an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Doctoral Training Partnership studentship and covers: (i) a tax-free annual stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£15,609 for 2021 entry), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the home or overseas rate.
Candidates of any nationality are welcome to apply and up to 30% of EPSRC DTP studentships may be awarded to exceptional international students.
See guidance for further details: https://www.york.ac.uk/chemistry/postgraduate/research/epsrc-stud/
Not all projects will be funded; candidates will be appointed via a competitive process.

References

[1] E.R. Draper, D.J. Adams, Chem, 2017, 3, 390. [2] D.B. Amabilino, D.K. Smith, J.W. Steed, Chem. Soc. Rev., 2017, 46, 2404. [3] J. Boekhoven, S.I. Stupp, Adv. Mater., 2014, 26, 1642. [4] P.R.A. Chivers, D.K. Smith, Nat. Rev. Mater., 2019, 4, 463. [5] C.C. Piras, P.G. Genever, J. Fitremann, D.K. Smith, manuscript submitted. [6] K. Hawkins, A.K. Patterson, P.A. Clarke, D.K. Smith, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2020, 142, 4379. [7] B.O. Okesola, S.K. Suravaram, A. Parkin, D.K. Smith, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2016, 55, 183.
Candidate selection process:
• You should hold or expect to receive at least an upper second class degree (or equivalent https://www.york.ac.uk/study/international/your-country/) in chemistry or a chemical sciences related subject
• Applicants should submit a PhD application to the University of York by 28 February 2022
• Supervisors may contact candidates either by email, telephone or web-chat
• Supervisors can nominate up to 2 candidates to be interviewed for the project
• The interview panel will shortlist candidates for interview from all those nominated
• Shortlisted candidates will be invited to a remote panel interview on 30th or 31st March or 1st April 2022
• The awarding committee will award studentships following the panel interviews
• Candidates will be notified of the outcome of the panel’s decision by email

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