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Hierarchical Self Assembly of Polymeric Soft Systems

Final Report Summary - SASSYPOL (Hierarchical Self Assembly of Polymeric Soft Systems)

The Hierarchical Self-Assembly of Polymeric Soft System (SASSYPOL) ITN program started in September 2013 and successfully run through the end of August 2017. The main aim of this program is to provide training to the next generation of scientists within a European network comprising 8 leading universities and several industrial partners. The main focus of the network is to develop new strategies for the preparation of hierarchically self-assembled polymeric soft systems. Supramolecular chemistry provides a powerful approach to develop next generation of functional soft systems and materials capable of meeting the current and future demands of society in a sustainable manner with emerging properties, such as healability, recyclability and facile processability. This class of soft systems has the potential to greatly impact important fields such as biomedicine, energy, composite materials, sensing and high-throughput technologies.
The ITN unites many leading experts in the areas of supramolecular and polymer chemistry with partners from the industrial sector. Expertise of all partners encompasses the general areas of non-covalent chemistry, with individual research competencies focusing on a number of specific themes including liquid crystalline materials, hydrogen-bonded supramolecules, molecular systems based on host-guest interactions, and advanced modelling and characterisation techniques of complex polymeric and self-assembled materials. The complementarity and diversity realised in synthesis, analysis, and applications is crucial for successful research and training in this area. A number of partners from the private sector will extend the fellows’ training beyond that of traditional academic settings, they will have the critical role of bridging fundamental science with application and commercialisation of the results. Indeed, the industrial partners will be perfect example of the commercialisation of cutting-edge science, and some of them with their technologies initially developed at an academic laboratory. Our activities thus possess both breadth and quality that can only be achieved through an interdisciplinary pan-European effort.

The SASSYPOL website ( was built by the grant manager before the 6-month period of funding. After the Kick-Off meeting, the management and update-requirements of the website were passed on to the ESR website committee as detailed in the Description of Work. The 10 ESRs have been responsible for updating the ER/ESR biographies, academic/industrial partners’ information, information about upcoming training modules, reporting on the previous training modules, moderating discussion(s) in the forum, and updating the research progress pages of the ERs/ESRs as required.
Following the ITN regulations, the Kick-Off meeting combined with the first training module (TM1) was held in February 2014 (month 7), and hosted by the partners in Eindhoven, The Netherlands at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). The theme covered at TM1 was the “Fundamentals of Supramolecular Chemistry and Polymer Science”. All beneficiaries who had been hired were present at TM1 and gave an introductory talk about the research in their lab/company and their potential research direction.
The second training module (TM2) of the ITN was on ‘Dynamic Hydrogels: From Preparation to Characterisation’ and was held in October 2014 (month 13) in Cambridge, UK. The meeting included talks by all of the ESRs on their research progress, and short lecture courses on various aspects of the TM2 topic led by four external research experts and one beneficiary. An Interactive Skills Course on project and time management was also held for the ESRs and ER by an external trainer.
The third training module (TM3) was held in February 2015 (month17) in Zaragoza, Spain on “Functional liquid crystalline materials”. TM3 covered six lectures led by some invited external academic/industrial experts, each consisting of a detailed tutorial introduction and recent research progress in the liquid crystal science field.
The fourth training module (TM4) of the ITN was on “Molecular simulation and modelling” and was again held in Cambridge, UK in June 2015 (month 21). TM4 covered five brief, systematic tutorial lectures, delivering hands-on training in fundamental Monte Carlo and Molecular Dynamics simulations that are most relevant for polymer science and self-assembly, functional soft systems, as well as an eight-hour computer lab for each ESR and ER.
The mid-term summer school (SS) was held in Ischia, Italy in Sept 2015 (month 25). All members of the ITN, including a number of supervisory board members, and several external invited experts and visiting scientists were present for the summer school, contributing to a wonderful scientific environment. This SS covered both training and research components in the form of short courses and lectures by the external experts, as well as presentations of research results by each of the ESRs and ERs in the ITN. The Management Committee and Supervisory Board also met jointly so that critical feedback was given to the partners on the functioning of SASSYPOL ITN as a network, and specifically on the training programme and research progress made thus far. During the meeting, a special section was arranged with the ERs/ESRs and the EU delegate, Ms Caroline Peters, where the progress of the projects, the feedback over the INT, as well as a further plan/frame of the FP-7 were discussed. Topical discussion sessions were set for ERs/ESRs to bring up questions, and during them some PIs actively shared their understanding/experience in managing PhD projects, personal career planning, job hunting, etc. Some specific sections were kept free, so that ERs/ESRs could have the chance to discuss their collaborative projects with their PI, together with their secondment PIs, in order to effectively promote the progress/plan. The PI meeting involved most of the PIs for a more in-depth discussion regarding the progress and further planning of the network.
The fifth training module (TM5) of the ITN was a short course on scattering techniques for the characterisation of soft matter hosted by Pyckhout- Hintzen in Munich (Germany) in Feb 2016 (month 30). A systematic training was delivered with one-day seminar over the mechanism behind light scattering and neutron scatting, followed by another half-day tour in the neutron source. The meeting included talks by all of the ESRs on their research progress on the last half day.
The sixth training module of the ITN (TM6) was held in Wesel (Germany) in Aug 2016 (month 36) and it was organised by the partners from the private sector, SUPRAPOLIX and ELANTAS Italia. The workshop focussed on research and development in industry, entrepreneurship, commercialisation and exploitation of research, and intellectual property rights (IPR). As SUPRAPOLIX represents SMEs while Elantas Italia represents a large multinational company, they were able to provide profound insight into how innovation and development in an industrial setting is realised under the demand and restrictions of the market. A brief introduction was given on how intellectual property management is carried out and run in a big company. A 2-hour tour/visit of the Elantas Additives and Plastic Department showed how R&D is conducted on an industrial scale, and how artificial intelligence (robots) functions in the production lines. Furthermore, discussion among the ERs/ESRs and people from Elantas inspired them to define their future career.
During all the TMs the Management Committee and Supervisory Board meet and gave critical feedback to the partners on the functioning of SASSYPOL as a network, and specifically on the training programme and research progress made thus far.

During all the ITN program, 6-monthly progress reports have been collected in order to keep track of the research progress. Each report is structured to help the ESRs and ERs summarize their recent research progress and scientific activities/achievement in the last few months, and update their Personal Career Development Plans. During the TMs these reports were circulated to interested beneficiaries and the Supervisory Board to review the progress of each individual ESR and ER within the grant.

Since the beginning of this SASSYPOL ITN, there have been great advances in the scientific aspects within supramolecular and polymer self-assembly. During the second period the results were mostly published in high impact journal and disseminated to conferences and meetings where the ESRs and ERs participated. Most of the ERs submitted their thesis and most of them have also gone through the oral defence.

The final research targets as expected provided advances ad breakthroughs in some of the key areas of high topical interest, such as:
(1) Hydrogels, which may find use in biomedical applications such as tissue engineering and wound healing.
(2) Nanoporous membranes.
(3) Soft responsive materials for microfluidic applications.
(4) Interface adhesion, self-healing and polymer compatibilisation.
(5) Recyclable high-performance polymer materials
(6) Artificial robots