Macromolecular and Biomolecular Materials

The UCSB Materials Department conducts world-class research in Macromolecular and Biomolecular Materials. Organic materials are critical to addressing emerging societal needs through advances in energy, environmental and biomedical research. For example, self-assembled polymer thin films are used to pattern features at the nanoscale in modern electronics. Biomolecular assemblies of DNA and proteins determine both the structure and active mechanical properties of biological cells. The electronic structure of semiconducting polymers provides revolutionary capability in printing low cost electronic devices and solar cells. Our faculty designs and studies the properties of organic and biomolecular materials across length scales to address these challenges and to define new directions of fundamental and applied research.

Our research is carried out in a multidisciplinary research environment that values collaboration and innovation across disciplines. Faculty and students are engaged in many UCSB research centers such as the Materials Research Laboratory, Mitsubishi Chemical Center for Advanced Materials, Dow Materials Institute, and the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnology.

Research Themes in Macromolecular  and Biomolecular Materials

Synthetic Methods for New Materials

The ability to control the properties of organic materials is only as good as the ability to control their molecular structure. Our faculty aim to design new synthetic approaches to form highly controlled macromolecular architectures using emerging methods such as click-chemistry and  light mediated polymerization. These materials allow us to study self-assembly, electronic properties and interactions with biological species with unprecedented control.

Energy Conversion

Our faculty and students seek to revolutionize our ability to convert energy into usable forms. Organic semiconducting materials are a platform for efficient solar cells, light emitting diodes, and thermoelectrics.  We synthesize new materials, examine their nanostructure using advanced characterization methods and study their physical properties in optoelectronic devices.

Biomolecular Assemblies

The study of biological materials reveals the nature of the interactions between biological molecules, which leads to self-assembled structures on multiple length scales.  Proteins derived from the eukaryotic cytoskeleton are studied, allowing us  us to relate supramolecular structure to function at the nanoscale. Our faculty also seeks to design new responsive materials, such as active gels that are inspired by living systems, and conjugated materials that interface with cell membranes. 

Interfacial Science

The forces between materials at interfaces control adhesion, intercellular interactions, and rheological behavior during flow. Researchers use experimental methods such as surface force apparatus and materials design to probe intermolecular interactions at interfaces that define these properties.

Fundamental Behavior of Organic Matter

Many properties of organic and biomolecular materials are difficult to predict because of our lack of fundamental models for their behavior. Our faculty uses theory, simulation, and experiment on model systems to improve our ability to design functional properties and our ability to understand the natural world. Examples of this work include the mechanical behavior of single molecules, models for coacervation of polyelectrolytes, and experimental determination of the phase behavior of complex block copolymers.