Responsive Membranes from Polymer-Surfactant Films

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Chemistry


We have recently discovered a novel method of forming nanostructured polymer-surfactant films. They grow spontaneously at the surface of a solution containing the two species, and are sufficiently thick and solid to remove them from the surface. They retain their ordered nanostructure during this procedure and we have shown it is possible to incorporate small hydrophobic molecules into the ordered nanostructure during film formation. In this proposal we want to investigate these fascinating membranes further using X-ray and neutron scattering techniques at ISIS, the ESRF and Diamond, and this presents an ideal training opportunity for a PhD student to learn about these techniques for analysing nanoscale structures, as well as about these novel polymer-surfactant films. The student will receive training in small angle scattering and reflectivity, two methods which allow us to analyse structure in films and solutions. As part of their project they will investigate the effect of changing the surfactant molecular structure on the nanostructures formed in the film, and then will go on to prepare films which are re-inforced by crosslinking the polymer component in the film. We will prepare films using polymers which are responsive to changes in temperature or pH to make membranes which swell or shrink to selectively release molecules trapped in the film during synthesis. We will also incorporate monomers into the surfactant nanostructure during film formation, followed by polymerisation of these monomers to create a replica of the soft surfactant structures in the film. This will allow us to prepare polymer nanostructures which are hard to prepare from normal solutions, and which will further reinforce the polymer-surfactant membrane to make it more robust. This will enhance the ability to recover it from the surface and use it in applications. Finally we will study the incorporation of micelle based fluorescent sensor molecules into the membranes to make solid sensors for determination of metal ions to show that it it possible to retain the sensing properties of these solution based sensors in a solid film form which could be more easily used than the solutions eg in dip stick type sensors.


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Xiong Y (2017) Sulfur-Doped Cubic Mesostructured Titania Films for Use as a Solar Photocatalyst in The Journal of Physical Chemistry C

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Gustavsson C (2014) Water-responsive internally structured polymer-surfactant films on solid surfaces. in Langmuir : the ACS journal of surfaces and colloids

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Xiong Y (2014) Free-Standing High Surface Area Titania Films Grown at the Air-Water Interface in The Journal of Physical Chemistry C

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Mokhtari T (2014) Controlling interfacial film formation in mixed polymer-surfactant systems by changing the vapor phase. in Langmuir : the ACS journal of surfaces and colloids

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Yang B (2013) Robust ordered cubic mesostructured polymer/silica composite films grown at the air/water interface. in Langmuir : the ACS journal of surfaces and colloids

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Edler KJ (2013) Formation of mesostructured thin films at the air-liquid interface. in Chemical Society reviews

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Yang B (2012) Silica-surfactant-polyelectrolyte film formation: evolution in the subphase. in Langmuir : the ACS journal of surfaces and colloids

Description Polymer-surfactant films containing metal ion sensors based on the micellar PAN-pyrene system have been prepared and tested for metal ion sensitivity. The solubilisation of styrene monomer in the micelles in the films has also been investigated in detail and this species has then been polymerised to create polystyrene networks within a polymer hydrogel film. Removal of the hydrogel template results in free-standing nanostructured polystyrene with retention of the nanoscale structure conferred by the template, without the dramatic increases in size reported by other groups. Such materials may have future applications in nanoscale filters, high surface area supports for catalysts, sensors and in cell growth scaffolds. Polystyrene re-inforced hydrogel membranes are considerably more robust than those prepared without the insoluble polymer. This grant was aimed at training the next generation of facility users, thus the PhD student funded by the grant (Robben Jaber) also participated in other work in the group particularly through involvement in large-facility experiments at the neutron source ISIS, and the Diamond synchrotron X-ray facility.
Exploitation Route Formation of films for drug delivery, templates for other materials, sensor supports, pollutant adsorption responsive membranes & surface coatings.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description Currently films are under investigation for drug delivery with collaborators at Reading University, and as nanofiltration membranes by researchers in Chemical Engineering.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Environment,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Description Diamond/Bath Science Faculty PhD studentship
Amount £45,327 (GBP)
Funding ID STU0149 
Organisation Diamond Light Source 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 03/2019
Description EPSRC Directed Assembly Pump-priming Award
Amount £14,498 (GBP)
Funding ID PP13 05 02 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2013 
End 04/2014
Description ESS PhD studentship
Amount £67,000 (GBP)
Organisation European Spallation Source 
Sector Public
Country Sweden
Start 08/2014 
End 02/2018
Description ISIS (STFC)/CDT in Sustainable Chemical Technologies PhD Studentship
Amount £44,992 (GBP)
Organisation Rutherford Appleton Laboratory 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2014 
End 10/2018
Description NSF/EPSRC Software Infrastructure for Sustained Innovation (SI2) - Grand Challenges in the Chemical Sciences
Amount £697,118 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/K039121/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2013 
End 07/2017
Description Polymer-surfactant Films Incorporating Carbon Nanotubes as Responsive Structures
Amount £12,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 2010/R1 South America and Cuba-UK 
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2010 
End 10/2012
Description Sustainable Materials and Products
Amount £837,414 (GBP)
Funding ID TS/H000240/1 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2009 
End 12/2011
Description Polyelectrolyte-Surfactant Interactions in Film Forming Solutions 
Organisation Higher Institute of Applied Sciences and Technologies
Country Cuba 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration to do research on formation mechanisms and polyelectrolyte-surfactant Interactions in film forming solutions with collaborators from InSTEC, Havana, Cuba. Funded by Royal Society.
Collaborator Contribution Research on formation mechanisms and properties of polyelectrolyte-surfactant interactions in film forming solutions
Impact 10.1039/b700942a, 10.1016/j.jcis.2009.07.067, 10.1039/C3SM27541H Chemistry, physical chemistry, analytical chemistry.
Description Polyelectrolyte-Surfactant Interactions in Film Forming Solutions Continuing 
Organisation Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Research into polymer-surfactant interactions at interfaces, polymer-surfactant film formation, polymer-lung surfactant interactions
Collaborator Contribution Partners moved from Havana to Rio. Research into polymer-surfactant interactions at interfaces, polymer-surfactant film formation, polymer-lung surfactant interactions
Impact none yet. Chemistry, physical chemistry, analytical chemistry.
Start Year 2013
Description Visiting Professorship at Lund University 
Organisation Lund University
Country Sweden 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution 1 year guest professorship 2012 at Physical Chemistry, Lund University, continuing at 10% per year 2013-2016. Chance to collaborate with several investigators in the extensive soft matter group at Physical Chemistry, in Lund on a range of projects from mesoporous inorganic oxides, to polymer-surfactant self-assembly. Co-supervision of PhD students.
Collaborator Contribution Research into effects of humidity on polymer-surfactant films, nucleation of mesoporous inorganic oxides, formation of membranes of complex salts.
Impact 10.1021/la503210g, 10.1063/1.4897282, 10.1021/la5010825, 10.1021/la9036327, 10.1021/la900867k, Chemistry, physical chemistry, biophysical chemistry.
Start Year 2009