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  Abbott Research Group - UW Chemical and Biological Engineering

Laboratory for Molecular Engineering
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Active Control of Surfactants

A second broad theme of our research revolves around the design of light-sensitive and redox-active amphiphiles, and development of principles for spatial and temporal control of surfactant-based interfacial and bulk solution properties. Molecular-level mechanisms have been identified by combining statistical thermodynamic modeling with hypothesis-driven experimentation. Various non-equilibrium phenomena have also been realized by transforming the states of the surfactants at rates that are fast compared to characteristic relaxation times of their solutions and assemblies. Ongoing experiments are demonstrating that these principles can be exploited in microfluidic systems to generate spatially localized changes in surfactant-based properties and can be used in combination with DNA to control transport of DNA to cells (transfection). Highlights of this research include:

  • Demonstrated that electrochemical control of the oxidation state of a family of soluble redox-active surfactants (ferrocene-based) synthesized in our laboratory enabled reversible manipulation of the surface tensions of aqueous solutions (changes in surface tension of 25mN/m were demonstrated over thousands of cycles). more
  • Synthesized light-sensitive surfactants containing azobenzene, and demonstrated photocontrol of capillary phenomena (e.g., light-triggered release of droplets) and formation of nanostructures in bulk solution. more
  • Demonstrated principles for active control of polymer- and DNA-lipid interactions using a family of ferrocene-based surfactants. Reversible control over microstructures formed by complexes of hydrophobically-modified polymers and surfactants was demonstrated. more