Tools for Predicting Molecular Gelation and Gel-based Applications
Molecular gels form through the self-assembly of small molecules into supramolecular structures that immobilize the solvent via capillary forces and surface tension. This self-aggregation is driven by noncovalent intermolecular interactions. As a consequence, changes in the local environment can be used to modulate the gel/solution dichotomy. Physical interactions among the large aggregates and with the solvent give rise to the macroscopic gel properties. Gelation is both a complex and poorly understood process; understanding which molecules will form gels and under what conditions remains a significant challenge. The majority of new gelators are discovered serendipitously or through extensive combinatorial screening methods. Our group’s approach has involved developing tools to streamline the discovery of new gelators, guided by insight gleemed from structure/property relationships in gelation, and identifying new gelators for specific applications. Our latest work in this area involved developing a sensor for Pb contamination in paint. This work was featured in numerous news outlets, and the original press release can be found here.