Responsive nanostructures for controlled alteration of interfacial properties

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Geryak, Ren
Tsukruk, Vladimir V.
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Responsive materials are a class of materials that are capable of “intelligently” changing properties upon exposure to a stimulus. Silk ionomers are introduced as a promising candidate of biopolymers that combine the robust, biocompatible properties of silk fibroin with the responsive properties of poly-l-lysine (PL) and poly-l-glutamic acid (PG). These polypeptides can be assembled using the well-known technique of layer-by-layer processing, allowing for the creation of finely tuned nanoscale multilayers coatings, but their properties remain largely unexplored in the literature. Thus, this research explores the properties of silk ionomer multilayers assembled in different geometries, ranging from planar films to three-dimensional microcapsules with the goal of created responsive systems. These silk ionomers are composed of a silk fibroin backbone with a variable degree of grafting with PG (for anionic species) or PL or PL-block- polyethylene glycol (PEG) (for cationic species). Initially, this research is focused on fundamental properties of the silk ionomer multilayer assemblies, such as stiffness, adhesion, and shearing properties. Elastic modulus of the materials is considered to be one of the most important mechanical parameters, but measurements of stiffness for nanoscale films can be challenging. Thus, we studied the applicability of various contact mechanics models to describe the relationship between force distance curves obtained by atomic force microscopy and the stiffness of various polymeric materials. Beyond considerations of tip size, we also examine the critical regions at which various commonly used indenter geometries are valid. Following this, we employed standard AFM probes and colloidal probes coated with covalently bonded silk ionomers to examine the friction and adhesion between silk ionomers layers. This technique allowed us to compare the interactions between silk ionomers of different chemical composition by using multilayer films containing standard silk ionomers or silk ionomers grafted with polyethylene glycol PEG. This led to the unexpected result that the PEG grafted silk ionomers experienced a higher degree of adhesion and a larger friction coefficient compared to the standard silk ionomers. Next, we move to microscale responsive systems based on silk ionomer multilayers. The first of these studies looks at the effect of assembly pH and chemical composition on the ultimate properties of hollow, spherical microcapsules. This study shows that all compositions and processing conditions yield microcapsules that show a substantial change in elastic modulus, swelling, and permeability, with maximum changes in property values (from acidic pH to basic pH) of around a factor of 6, 1.5, and 5, respectively. In addition, it was discovered that the use of acidic pH assembly inverts the permeability response (i.e. causes a drastic reduction in permeability at higher pH), whilst the use of PEG largely damps any observable trend in permeability, without adversely affecting the swelling or elastic modulus responses. In the second part of these studies, we constructed tri-component photopatterned arrays for the purpose of creating self-rolling films. This study demonstrated that the ultimate geometry of the final rolled shape can be tuned by controlling the thickness of various components, due to the creation of a stress mismatch at high pH conditions. Additionally, it was revealed that pH-driven, semi-reversible delamination of silk ionomers from polystyrene exhibited a change in both magnitude and wavelength with the addition of methanol treated silk fibroin as a top layer. Finally, we showcase examples of biologically compatible systems that incorporate non-polymeric materials in order to generate tunable optical behavior. In one study, we fabricated composite nanocellulose-silk fibroin meshes that contained genetically engineered bacteria that acted as chemically sensitive elements with a fluorescent response. The addition of silk fibroin was found to drastically improve the mechanical properties of the cellulose composite structures, safely contain the bacteria to prevent efflux into the medium, and protect the cells from moderate ultraviolet radiation exposure. The final study concludes with the creation of a self-assembled segmented gold-nickel nanorod array used as a responsive element when anchored into a hydrogen-bonded polymer multilayer. Because of the mild tethering conditions and the magnetic nickel component, the nanorods were able to tilt in response to an external magnetic field. This, in turn, allowed for the creation of a never before reported magnetic-plasmonic system capable of continuously-shifting multiple surface polariton scattering peaks (up to 100 nm shifts) with nearly complete reversibility and rapid (<1 s) response times. Overall, this research develops the understanding of the fundamental properties of several different species of silk ionomers and related polymeric materials. This understanding is then utilized to fabricate pH-responsive systems with drastic changes in modulus, permeability, and geometry. In the end, the research prototypes two types of systems with optical responses and chemical/magnetic stimuli, using materials that are chemically (i.e. silk fibroin-based) or structurally (i.e. multilayers) translatable to future work on silk ionomers. These projects all serve the purpose of advancing the understanding of materials and assembly strategies that will allow for the next generation of bioinspired responsive materials.
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