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  Abbott Research Group - UW Chemical and Biological Engineering

Laboratory for Molecular Engineering
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Aqueous - Liquid Crystal Interfaces

Whereas the studies described above are focused on the ordering of liquid crystals at interfaces of chemically functionalized solids, our research has also contributed new principles for the design of functional interfaces between aqueous phases and water-immiscible liquid crystalline phases. A range of approaches that permit control over the chemical functionality of these interfaces has been demonstrated, including methods that involve the assembly of biological amphiphiles (phospholipids, glycolipids, peptide-amphiphiles), synthetic polyelectrolytes and proteins. Biomolecules added to the aqueous phase have been shown to interact with the chemically functionalized interface of the liquid crystal, thus triggering dynamic ordering transitions in the liquid crystal. Protein binding, enzymatic events, biomechanical interactions involving living cells, and protein crystallization have all been demonstrated to trigger ordering transitions. The dynamic and mobile nature of the interface plays a central role in mediating ordering transitions in the liquid crystals, which in turn provides spatial and temporal information about these interfacial events. Highlights of this research follow:

  • Demonstrated that spontaneous assembly of biological amphiphiles and biological macromolecules at interfaces between thermotropic liquid crystalline phases and aqueous phases gives rise to patterned orientations of the liquid crystals that reflect the spatial and temporal organization of the amphiphiles and macromolecules. more
  • Unmasked the influence of the ordering of liquid crystals on the interfacial organization of biomolecules at aqueous-liquid crystal interfaces. These studies demonstrated that the elasticity of liquid crystals can induce lateral phase separation of amphiphilic molecules assembled at these interfaces. more
  • Identified biocompatible liquid crystals, and demonstrated the culture of living mammalian cells on the surfaces of synthetic liquid crystals for over 2 weeks. These studies revealed the ordering of the liquid crystals to be coupled to the organization of the extracellular matrix on which the cells were seeded. more
  • Reported the preparation of polymeric capsules by a template-based synthesis method that employs monodisperse silica spheres (with diameters of 0.7, 1, 3, 5, 8, and 10 micrometers), and the filling of these capsules with a nematic LC, thus forming polymer-coated LC droplets. more