Versatile Method of Synthesizing Polymer Nanoparticles
In principle, polymer nanoparticles—composed of chainlike, entangled molecules—can be engineered in a variety of sizes and shapes, with porous or solid internal structures and a wide range of chemical functionalities. The tailored properties of these so-called programmable polymer nanoparticles make them promising vehicles for targeted drug delivery. Programmable polymer nanoparticles could, for example, be engineered to release an anticancer treatment when they encounter a specific type of malignant cell. At present, however, the manufacture of polymer nanoparticles relies on solution-based batch processes that produce spherical nanoparticles only, with a limited range of chemical properties.
With this CAREER award, Rong Yang, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, is developing a high-throughput, solvent-free technique to synthesize programmable polymer nanoparticles using chemical vapor deposition. To achieve this advance, researchers will address three fundamental challenges: 1) kinetics of condensation and polymerization of nonpolar nanodrops for controlled particle size and size distribution; 2) non-equilibrium dewetting on an engineered, patterned interface to control nanoparticle shape; and 3) molecular complexes and interfacial flow to produce nanoparticles with a porous internal structure.
This research aims to develop a more versatile, scalable method for synthesizing polymer nanoparticles with programmable shape, size, porosity, and chemistries. The results could be used for large-scale production of polymer nanoparticles and could be adapted to the design of many types of nanomaterials for medical and other applications—transforming the economic impact of nanoparticles and accelerating the growth of a multi-billion-dollar industry in the United States.