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Nanotechnology with Single Macromolecules


Molecular scale interactions at artificial and naturally occurring responsive surfaces, e.g. the cell membrane, play a crucial role in many biological and biomedical processes. Responsive surfaces with molecular level control are considered as key to many crucial problems in nanobiotechnology. We aim at contributing to the development of such surfaces starting from a fundamental understanding of structure-property relationships in advanced nanomaterials and processes from the molecular scale. Specifically we propose to investigate the translation of external stimuli into forces in single macromolecules by means of atomic force microscopy (AFM) measurements for two classes of stimuli-responsive polymers, i.e. unique redox-active organometallic poly (ferrocenyl silanes) and elastin-based biopolymers.

The communication with single molecules occurs via conformational/dimensional changes of these polymers under stress via changes in chain torsional potential energy landscape and thus variations in the corresponding macromolecular characteristic ratio. These occur upon redox stimulation or upon changes in e.g. temperature or pH. The challenging project will be tackled in a rational manner (control instead of trial and error) by depositing molecules individually at precisely defined positions using scanning probe lithography. Subsequently, the nanomechanical properties of an ensemble of individually addressable molecules will be probed molecule for molecule by single molecule force spectroscopy, hence avoiding a convolution of data of many molecules.

This approach will also be utilized to selectively pick up individual macromolecules by chemically functionalised tips, followed by AFM measurements that aim at unravelling the effects of several external stimuli on the macromolecules response. Based on the results, responsive surfaces with molecular level control can be designed for applications in the areas of (bio) sensors, drug delivery, nano/ microfluidics, and smart coatings.

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