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Synthesis of smart materials: Functionalising nanotubes with molecular switches


The ability to miniaturise devices has completely changed our society and modern technology is constantly pushing towards smaller and lighter devices with enhanced and more diverse functionalities. Future technologies will increasingly rely on materials t hat respond to their environment in a manner that suggests a degree of "intelligence" and nanoscience may offer many of the tools and opportunities that are required in order to a build a foundation for the next scientific revolution.

The design of a library of carbon nanotubes functionalised with task-oriented molecules for the development of responsive, i.e. "smart" nano-materials is the main focus of this interdisciplinary research program. The nano-device itself will be composed of a carbon nanotube because it offers biocompatibility as well as the necessary structural scaffolding. In order to render the vehicle soluble and stable in water, the nanotube will be suitably functionalised on the surface. In order to make this into a smart material, a molecular switch will be covalently attached to the vehicle.

The role of the switch is to activate the drug delivery system or to function as a sensor. Once the switch is triggered by the external stimulus (such as light, heat, chemicals or changes in pH) it w ill undergo a conformational change that can release biologically active ions and molecules in a controlled manner. Alternatively, the switch can be constructed such that it responds to specific chemical inputs (such as different metal ions or amino acids). Finally, the possibility of using the nanotube (which has excellent thermal conductivity) as a light/heat-absorbing antenna that can transmit energy directly to the attached switch will be explored. If near-IR radiation could be used as input/trigger for this kind of delivery/sensing vehicle it would represent a major breakthrough because such radiation is of low energy and relatively harmless to human tissue and biotic systems.

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