MSE Virtual Seminar: “Supramolecular Polymers with a Bulletproof Design”

Date(s) - 01/11/2022
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm


Ty Christoff-Tempesta

Ph.D. Candidate
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Ty Christoff-Tempesta is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Program in Polymers and Soft Matter at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research is focused on molecular design to produce robust polymeric assemblies from small molecules and the application of soft matter to pressing challenges in water treatment. Outside of research, Ty leads initiatives through the DEI Collaborative at MIT and actively engages with the Massachusetts State government and industry in plastics sustainability efforts. Ty is a recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the Martin Society Fellowship for Sustainability, and the Hugh Hampton Young Fellowship.


Molecular self-assembly offers a powerful bottom-up approach to producing non-covalent polymer nanostructures with high surface areas, tunable surface chemistries, and pristine internal order. Conventionally, the dynamic nature of these systems has constrained their use in specific cases in aqueous environments.

Here, I present the design of supramolecular polymers constructed from small molecule aramid amphiphiles to overcome these limitations. Aramid amphiphiles incorporate a Kevlar-inspired domain that imparts strong, cohesive intermolecular interactions between molecules. We observe aramid amphiphiles self-assemble into nanoribbons with suppressed dynamic mobility and mechanical properties rivaling silk. By harnessing this stability, we expand the application space of supramolecular polymers to: performing post-assembly surface reactions, stabilizing unusual metastable nanostructures, and extending molecular assemblies to the solid-state.

Finally, we leverage surface areas near 200 m2/g to design aramid amphiphile-based polymers that treat liters of lead-contaminated water with single milligrams of material. Employing molecular design to incorporate durable interactions into supramolecular polymers offers a route to surmount limitations of conventional assemblies, enabling customizable nanomaterials for demanding applications.

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