In the Mommer Research Group, we seek to engineer hydrogels, soft and polymeric materials by combining various disciplines such as organic, polymer and supramolecular chemistry, as well as material sciences. Hydrogel materials are crosslinked polymer networks with reversible swelling, tunable porosity, elasticity, toughness, and flexibility. Conventional hydrogels often suffer from weak mechanical properties and display brittle and unstable behaviour limiting their scope for load-bearing applications. Such networks consist of side-chain functionalized polymers, whose covalent crosslinks occur at fixed positions on the polymer backbone. Upon deformation, tensile stress is concentrated on the closest neighbouring crosslinks, eventually leading to their rupture and material failure.
We are interested in the molecular design of high-performance hydrogels with toughness and elasticity similar to rubber with applications towards robust medical materials, soft electronics and high-performant responsive materials.
To increase toughness and elasticity, researchers have continuously sought ways to dissipate energy throughout the hydrogel network. Chain entanglements represent one of the simplest non-covalent chain-chain interactions, yet they predominantly occur at high polymer concentrations, which is at odds with the low polymer concentrations and the high water content of hydrogels.
In the Mommer Research Group we design and investigate new modes of energy dissipation that are predominantly based on supramolecular chemical approaches. We are particularly interested in slide-ring gels (slide-ring interlocking), host-guest chemistry, microphase separation and hydrogen bonding, among others to open up new efficient pathways of energy dissipation.
Slide-ring gels (SRG) generally consist of slidable crosslinks that freely translocate along the polymer backbone. On the molecular level, two individual macrocycles that are threaded onto the polymer backbone are chemically linked and tie two separate polymer chains together. This unique topological feature can infuse materials with unique physicochemical and mechanical properties. When SRGs experience stress, the movable crosslinks help to equalize tension within the system, SRGs undergo large volume changes during equilibrium swelling and exhibit enhanced stretchabilities, highly elastic response to deformation and increased elastic moduli as compared to their non-sliding counterparts.
If you are interested to work with us on cutting-edge soft materials, we invite you to check out the Vacancies section for open positions!