Cucurbiturils (queue-cuh-bit-your-ills) are tiny barrel shaped molecules, so small that 100,000 of them could sit side by side and the total length would still be smaller than the width of a single human hair. These tiny barrels have a special property, the inside of them is attracted to oily molecules while the outside of them is attracted to water.

In my research I create very long molecules called polymers. These polymers are designed so that every so often along their length there is an oily molecule hanging from them. If I mix my polymers in water and add cucurbiturils, the oily molecules go inside the cucurbiturils which makes the polymers stick together. Because this all happens in water the material created is called a hydrogel.

My gels have lot’s of special properties which I am studying. First, they can conduct electricity so may be useful for batteries. Secondly when you cut them and put pieces back together the oily molecules can find their way back into the cucurbiturils which means that the cut heals itself! Finally, if you press on the gel really hard it can become a liquid but when you stop pressing it will return to being solid!

Daniel Whitaker

NanoDTC Associate, a2018