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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R035105/1
Title: Block copolymer-enabled mesopore sensing
Principal Investigator: Guldin, Dr S
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Monash University Pilkington
Department: Chemical Engineering
Organisation: UCL
Scheme: New Investigator Award
Starts: 01 May 2018 Ends: 30 April 2021 Value (£): 463,773
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Instrumentation Eng. & Dev. Materials Characterisation
Materials Synthesis & Growth
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
R&D
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
07 Mar 2018 EPSRC Physical Sciences - March 2018 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Material architectures with pores on the 5 - 50 nm length scale offer distinct opportunities for chemo- and biosensing applications. Capillary condensation, i.e. the filling of pores with condensed liquid from the vapour phase, is highly dependent on the pore size and relative humidity. Efficient trapping of target analytes relates to a combination of adequate surface interaction and control over spatial confinement.

The aim of this research proposal is to build porous materials with unprecedented functioning in humidity and biomedical sensing through the structural control offered by the use of block copolymer (BCP) co-assembly. BCPs are macromolecules that are composed of chemically dissimilar building blocks, which are linked by covalent bonds. Solvent evaporation leads to phase separation into nanoscale morphologies, which can be controlled by the molecular design of the BCPs. In a co-assembly approach, BCPs are used as sacrificial host to structure direct inorganic guest material. After structure formation, the organic material is removed to reveal a porous inorganic network. Conceptually, this approach allows to systematically vary and control key parameters of porous thin films, such as porosity, pore size and dispersity as well as the pore architecture, by modifications to the molecular building blocks and processing conditions.

In the course of the proposed study, parameters that govern the pore size and dispersity will be elucidated and general effectiveness of BCP-derived porous materials evaluated on two different sensing platforms, namely humidity and biomedical sensing.

In humidity sensing, the fabrication of transparent material architectures will be pursued that allow accurate determination over the full humidity range via capacitative means, offering an integrated route to responsive glazing components for automotive and building applications. Findings will be implemented in a windscreen prototype with responsive anti-fogging control. In the light of the gradual extinction of the internal combustion engine towards electrified mobility where heat is no longer abundant and thus a significant burden to the energy consumption, such technology will offer widespread impact.

For biomedical sensing, the trapping of target analytes in porous networks will be studied for a number of candidates whose quantification is important in therapy, e.g. viruses, therapeutic antibodies, exosomes or microRNA. Applicability of effective trapping and the envisioned superior pore size control will be implemented in novel types of biosensors that allow detection by changes in electrochemical currents associated to a blockage of the pores. Successful proof-of-principle will stimulate the development of low-cost handheld diagnostic devices in point-of-care applications to improve therapeutic outcomes at minimal side-effects.

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