Bio-inspired Synthetic Systems

Justin Patrick Cole, University of New Hampshire, Durham


The structure and activity of proteins are the gold standard for functional polymeric materials. From advances in sequence-controlled polymers (primary structure), to peptidomimetics, foldamers, single-chain nanoparticles (secondary and tertiary structure), accessing the various structural aspects of protein chemistry is a vibrant research area. Likewise, the properties and utility of proteins in applications such as catalysis and molecular recognition are being emulated in the laboratory with great promise. Design and synthesis of these materials requires the application of chemistry that is uncommon in the field of protein-mimicry, which opens up entirely new architectures not accessible by biocompatible materials. Characterization of these materials requires that we approach them with the same precision as we would with a biological material, something that is unnecessary in traditional polymer chemistry. These are the two biggest challenges in the field of polymer chemistry: ab initio design of function based on polymer architecture and characterization techniques as precise as those being applied to biopolymers. This work tackles both of these challenges head on. Here, we describe new materials that emulate various aspects of protein structure and fluorogenic imaging sensors that were inspired by electron transfer reactions that are ubiquitous in biological systems. We hope that these new polymer systems provide a glimpse into the future of synthetic materials.