Phase transitions in bio-gels: towards structure/properties control of bio-aerogels and of responsive biomaterials
Synthetic polymer gels are known as «intelligent» materials able to undergo conformation changes in response to external inputs. In the view of transition to bio-based economy, we are asking: can bio-based gels replace “intelligent” petrol-based ones and even suggest new applications? The goal of this project is two-fold: i) to provide a fundamental understanding of bio-gels’ phase transitions in non-solvents and ii) to use this knowledge for the development of bio-aerogels and of novel bio-gel based sensors. Bio-aerogels are recently discovered nanostructured open-pores solid networks with high porosity and high specific surface area. They are made via polymer dissolution, solution gelation followed by solvent exchange and drying with supercritical CO2. Solvent exchange is a key step controlling formation of bio-aerogel structure. For making stimuli-responsive smart bio-materials, high sensitivity towards small changes in the solvent/non-solvent composition is required. Thermodynamics and kinetics of bio-gel behaviour in a non-solvent are thus the key questions that will be studied experimentally and quantified using thermodynamic methods.