Soft Machines: Nanotechnology and Life
Anthony J. Ryan
The ICI Professor of Physical Chemistry and Director of The Polymer Centre
The University of Sheffield, United Kingdom
The common theme in my research is phase transitions in polymers. Most recently we have used the knowledge of the thermodynamics and kinetics of phase behaviour in polymer blends and block copolymers to develop new processing methods based on self-assembly. This has led to the development of the new field of Soft Nanotechnology where synthetic and natural macromolecules are harnessed in a way that makes use of their intrinsic flexibility and susceptibility to Brownian motion to generate work from changes on molecular conformation. Developments in polymers responsive to their environment have lead to research into molecular machines, specifically the fabrication of molecular valves and motors.
We do polymer synthesis in order to have well defined systems to study. The dynamics of phase behaviour are studied by calorimetry, spectroscopy, rheology, microscopy and light, X-ray or neutron scattering. A full suite of microstructural analysis (atomic force, optical and electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction and mechanical testing) is used to confirm the dynamic experiments and where appropriate computer modelling is also used.
My main contribution to the field has been the development and application of the techniques of time-resolved structural tools to polymers. This work was the subject of prizes in 1990 by the Plastics and Rubber Institute, in 1992, 1999 and 2003 from the Royal Society of Chemistry and in 1999 from the Polymer Processing Society.
I have been active in promulgating the public understanding of science since my graduate student days. This culminated in my appointment as the Royal Institution Christmas Lecturer for 2002 where my theme was the science and technology of everyday things. The lectures were seen on Channel 4 by 4.5 million viewers and have also been broadcast in Europe, Japan and Korea. I was also the 1st EPSRC Senior Media Fellow to allow me to combine world-class research and popular understanding of the impact of science and technology on society. I was awarded an OBE in 2005 for “services to science”
Speaking in the Polymer Nanotechnology Symposium.
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