Research directions / Objectives
The objective of the hybrid nanostructures group is to develop functional material nanostructures. This is achieved via the specialized design, synthesis and optimization of hybrid materials combining two or more types of functions. These materials possess specifically designed and optimized properties as well as tuning capabilities and they are appropriate for definite scientific and technological applications. They can be used from the household everyday life, to the automotive industries or to sections of even higher technological interest, as for example, robotics, photonics, lower cost laser sources, coatings for barcodes or even coatings for airplanes for rescuing operations, biosensors, and structures that target biological applications like tissue engineering.
The group is structured in four laboratories that focus on the following research topics:
The Functional Polymer Nanostructures group aims at developing functional nanostructured materials, which possess specifically designed properties and tuning capabilities. The group focuses on understanding the relationship between microstructure-dynamics-properties of polymeric and hybrid materials, and on optimizing properties and designing novel advanced and functional materials.
The main activities include the investigation of: the morphology and dynamics of multi-constituent polymers (including polymer mixtures, block copolymers, homopolymer / copolymer mixtures, star and hyperbranched polymers) in bulk and in restricted geometries; the study of polymer surfaces, interfaces and thin films and the development of polymer coatings; the investigation of functional and responsive polymer materials and material surfaces; the study of polymer nanocomposites; the development of nanoparticulate catalysts for the chemical industry as well as the development of polymeric materials for applications in the field of energy. The investigation involves the design of the functional materials, the characterization of the structure, chain conformations and the dynamics in the melt, in solution and close to surfaces or under severe confinement as well as the study of the thermal, surface, mechanical, rheological, optical, optoelectronic and magnetic properties and their response to selected external stimuli. Such systems target specific applications ranging from every day commodity products, to greenhouse films in agriculture, to coatings-paints and adhesives for the automotive and aerospace industries as well as polymer electrolytes for batteries.
The Materials Synthesis Laboratory (MSL) has extensive experience on the synthesis, characterization and applications of polymeric and organic/inorganic hybrid materials, polymer colloids, “smart” stimuli-responsive materials, water-soluble/amphiphilic polymers, biologically active (co)polymers, supramolecular assemblies, micellar nanostructures, polyelectrolytes/polyampholytes, microgels/hydrogels and the modification of flat and curved surfaces. The group has extensive experience on “living” and controlled polymerization techniques such as, Group-Transfer Polymerization, Atom Transfer Radical Polymerization (ATRP) and Reversible Addition Fragmentation Chain-Transfer (RAFT), to prepare polymers of controlled macromolecular characteristics (i.e. molecular weight, and molecular weight distribution, composition and architecture). MSL is an internationally-renowned group in the field of multi-responsive and biocompatible/biodegradable polymers for biomedical applications such as targeted and controlled drug delivery, gene therapy and tissue engineering.
The Natural Biomaterials team focuses on developing self-assembling, bioinspired nanomaterials targeted for novel applications. The design of such self-assembling protein and peptide building blocks is often achieved by drawing inspiration of from natural fibrous proteins such as collagen, elastin, silk and spider silks that are built up from repetitive sequences. Self-assembling proteins and peptides are water soluble and biocompatible nanostructures formed spontaneously under mild conditions through non-covalent interactions. They form supramolecular structures such as ribbons, nanotubes and fibers, which often form gels. Protein and peptide based-nanostructures can assemble under mild conditions, though they can withstand elevated temperatures, detergents and denaturants following their assembly. Moreover, the wide range of chemical functionalities found in peptides (ie 20 amino acids) enables the design and engineering of specific interactions with target materials for potential technological applications. Technologically, the self-organized structures can be used as templates for the growth of inorganic materials, such as metals (silver, gold and platinum), silica, calcium phosphates etc. Self-assembling peptides may also create hydrogels and entangled fibrous networks that can be used as scaffolds for attachment, growth and proliferation of living cells, allowing tissue repair and engineering. Therefore, in recent years the study of the properties of self-organization has created a separate area of research, ranging from biomedicine and biotechnology to materials science and nanotechnology. Overall, our team focuses on how to translate fundamental structural knowledge from natural fibrous proteins into concrete integration strategies and applications in the area of fibrous bio-nano-materials.
The team combines therefore expertise in biochemistry, structural biology, biotechnology, nanosciences, material engineering and micronanofabrication, thus going beyond the state of the art methods used in traditional (nano)biotechnology and bioengineering. We have been involved for a number of years in the rational design, synthesis and characterization of self-assembling proteins and peptides following identification of building blocks in natural fibrous proteins such as viral fibers. Such short self-assembling peptides that are amenable to rational design offer open-ended possibilities towards multifunctional material scaffolds of the future. Last but not least, we also foster interdisciplinary collaborations with colleagues that develop techniques to manipulate, assemble and position these materials in a controlled manner and we have a long term collaboration with Dr. Maria Farsari of IESL.
The research activities of the Laboratory of Biomaterials in Tissue Engineering include the development of biomaterials and scaffolds for therapeutic strategies via tissue engineering. Specifically, our research endeavors focus in the area of the design of novel multifunctional biomaterials, the investigation of the biomaterials structure-properties effect on specific biological responses, the assessment of in vitro and in vivo biocompatibility and functionality of the developed scaffolds, the investigation of the osteoinductive potential of implantable biomaterials and drugs for bone regeneration. We conduct research on tissue engineering applications including myoskeletal, dental, cardiovascular.For more information please visit our website at the University of Crete, Dept. of Materials Science and Technology
Polymer Electronics is the newer among the research directions within the Hybrid Nanostructures Group of the IESL. The research activities of the Polymer Electronics Laboratory focus on the development and the study of electrically active polymers, and their integration in electronic devices. The expertise of the team spans over conducting and semi-conducting polymers, organic mixed ionic-electronic conductors, as well as ferroelectric/piezoelectric polymers. Our skills integrate materials design and processing, physical characterizations (structural, electrical, optoelectronic, etc.), organic electronic device fabrication and performance characterizations. The core of our research lies on the establishment of the materials’ processing-structure-function relationships, and their capitalization on the optimization of the performance of the respective devices. Target applications include energy harvesting from clean and renewable sources (thermoelectrics, photovoltaics, piezoelectric nanogenerators), bioelectronics (electronic plants) and sensing. The activities of the Polymer Electronics Lab are led by Dr. Eleni Pavlopoulou.