Posted: August 27, 2009

Polymer smart materials as sensors to detect biological materials and pollutants

(Nanowerk News) A University of York scientist has been awarded a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship for her research on smart polymer materials that could eventually be used as sensors to detect biological materials and pollutants.
Dr Verena Görtz, of the University’s Department of Chemistry, will use the funds provided by the Fellowship to develop her pioneering work which focuses on creating polymer beads with liquid crystal properties.
Liquid crystals are widely known for their application in liquid crystal displays, such as in LCD-TVs or mobile phones. They are intermediate in order between a liquid and a crystalline solid, uniquely combining the fluidity of liquids with some of the optical properties of crystals. Liquid crystals, therefore, have the ability to visually respond to small external stimuli, such as the presence of different surfaces or the application of electric fields.
Dr Görtz’s research aims to investigate how incorporating and confining liquid crystal order into small polymer beads will affect their physical properties.
Dr Görtz, who is a member of the Materials Chemistry Research Group at York, said: “Small polymer beads, with sizes ranging from hundreds of nanometres to micrometres, find many applications which exploit the surface the particles provide. One example is surface modified beads that bind bio-molecules such as DNA, selectively. The liquid crystal polymer beads I develop are designed to change their optical properties in response to changes at the bead surface caused, for example, by a binding process, and resulting in a visible optical read-out.
“One of the fascinating prospects of my research is to develop effective sensors by exploiting both the elastic and surface properties of polymer beads and the optical properties of liquid crystals. This results in micron-sized materials that respond to a wide variety of changes in the environment, such as mechanical or electrical stimuli, changes in temperature, or external reactions.”
The Fellowship, which starts in October, provides research funding for four years. Born in Germany, Dr Görtz obtained her PhD from the University of Mainz in Germany and worked at the University of Hull before coming to York in 2005.
Source: University of York
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