Women in Nanoscience


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Sweat-inspired polymer look-alikes from Aizenberg's biomimetic lab

Posted on July 12, 2015 at 6:20 PM

Secretion of fluids happens everywhere in our body, performing different and important functions: Sweat is secreted to regulate body temperature, and saliva, which contains enzymes, is released to help digest food. Within our body, secretion is involuntary and self-regulated; it starts when needed, and stops when it's not needed anymore. Developing a synthetic system that could emulate what just nature does with secretion, could improve anti-fouling, drug delivery, and the development self-healing materials.


Joanna Aizenberg, a Harvard professor of Material Science, Chemistry, and Chemical Biology and the director of the Kavli Institute for Bio-nano Science and Technology is well-known for her nature-inspired inventions. Secretion is no exception, and her research team recently reported in Nature Materials a polymer system that exhibits a self-regulated secretion and self-healing capability. The new system is self-assembled through phase separation of the polymer solution, and consists of liquid droplets inside a supramolecular polymer gel. On top of the polymer gel sits a thin layer of liquid, and when this liquid is depleted, the liquid droplets in the gel flow through the gel matrix to the surface until it replenishes the lost liquid on the surface. The polymer gel is out of equilibrium, and its instability allows it to become adaptive and responsive to its surrounding; it can come apart to make room for the liquid droplet to filter through the matrix, and stitch itself back to adjust to the shrinking volume after the liquid filters out. This work could be particularly useful for drug delivery for cancer patients, where precise control of amount of drug release is important.

Prof. Aizenberg is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a fellow of Material Research Society and American Physical Society. She has received numerous awards for her ingenious research and scientific contributions, including an R&D 100 Award for Top Technology and Innovation, the Ronald Breslow Award for the Achievement in Biomimetic Chemistry, and the ACS Industrial Innovation Award.

- Written by Eugene Choi, Edited by Paulette Clancy

Categories: WINnews

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