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MacLachlan Group

Research Focus

Sustainable Materials Synthesis

Our materials team is interested in the fabrication of new materials, with an emphasis on sustainability. Our goal is to develop new synthetic strategies to prepare functional materials with hierarchical order, while gaining a greater understanding of the foundations of supramolecular assembly and structural growth. We use abundant biomaterials such as cellulose and chitin, as the building blocks for our materials, due to their ability to self-assemble into lyotropic liquid crystals.

One of the key building blocks that we use in our research is cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs). CNCs are nanosized cellulose rods obtained by treatment of cellulosic biomass with acids. A unique property of concentrated aqueous suspension of CNCs is its spontaneous self-assembly into highly organized structures. CNC films exhibit structural color like many examples in nature, and the vibrant colors depend on the helical pitch (P) and angle (θ), according to modified Bragg’s law λ = nPsinθ. Through manipulation of the self-assembly process we have made a wide variety of outstanding photonic materials including glasses, plastics, hydrogels, aerogels, fibers, and membranes.

Overall, the research in our group involves the following areas:

We are constantly expanding the range of building blocks we use to prepare our materials and have recently started to use graphene oxide liquid crystals, smaller chiral molecules, and biological polymers to make our research more diverse.

Materials Research Schematic (click to enlarge)

Supramolecular Chemistry and Functional Materials

Our supramolecular team employs different synthetic strategies (organic, inorganic, and organometallic) to produce functional molecules and macromolecules, including shape-persistent macrocycles and metallomacrocycles, as well as supramolecular polymers and highly ordered frameworks.

In the lab, we study a variety of macrocycles differentiated by their chemical composition (organic and metal-based), flexibility, shape, cavity size, host performance, steric/electronic properties, and reactivity. Overall, these macrocyclic species can either: (i) self-assemble to generate nanostructured materials such as fibers, tubes, or sheets, (ii) accommodate organic guests in their cavities, (iii) coordinate to metal centers to produce metallocavitands, (iv) function as electrochemical and photoluminescent probes, or (v) participate in dynamic processes such as ligand exchange and polymer growing.

Currently, our group is exploring the following:

We actively enrich the library of molecular scaffolds that we study. Our vision is quite broad, spanning from salphen species and tryptecene bulding blocks to amino acid-based gelators and mechanically interlocked molecules. We use these scaffolds to design functional materials that might find application in sensing, energy harvesting, gas storage, catalysis, water remediation, chemical reactivity, and metal sequestration.

Supramolecular Research Schematic (click to enlarge)

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MacLachlan Group 2021.