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Supramolecular interactions:

from Nature to Polymers PhD Article

In the Macromolecular and Organic Chemistry group (or probably better known as the Meijer Group), we focus on the design, synthesis, characterization and applications of new supramolecular systems with novel properties and functions. By on the one hand focusing on fundamentally understanding the self-assembly behaviour of these supramolecular systems, we hope to obtain insights which can be used to then take the step into potential applications. Even though supramolecular chemistry is the main research topic within the group, there are four different subgroups each with their own flavour added into the mix of design, synthesis and characterization of the systems we study. Ranging from fundamental research in organic solvents to understand multi-step noncovalent synthesis, or creating novel polymeric materials with exotic structure-property relationships, towards more biomedical applicationdriven research where we study our systems in water and complex media. For me, having an MSMC background mixed up with some courses from biomedical engineering

Figure 1

and an internship at a pharmaceutical company, the latter is, of course, where my research best fits. But, before diving into that, let’s first focus a bit on why we use all these supramolecular systems and why it is interesting to use them in, for example, biomedical applications. It all has to do with taking inspiration from nature. If we look at nature, we can find incredibly complex systems where multiple molecules and subunits are assembled into more complex structures. All these structures are not being held together by ‘classical’ covalent bonds, but instead by weaker supramolecular interactions such as hydrogen bonds, hydrophobichydrophilicand

electrostatic-interactions. Not only complex structures are formed, but these structures also exhibit a specific function. For example proteins and enzymes, which owe their function and specific properties to their folded structure, which is dictated by the supramolecular interactions upon folding of their primary structure. Now, another important thing that we have in nature is dynamicity. Cells have a cytoskeleton, and it is crucial for cell division and to provide support to the cell, but it is also important that the cytoskeleton is dynamic, to change its organization when needed. This dynamicity can be ascribed to the rapid polymerization and depolymerization of filaments inside the cytoskeleton. This rapid polymerization and depolymerization can on its turn then be related back to the non-covalent interactions between the individual subunits. So, in nature, we have all these complex and dynamic systems governed by supramolecular non-covalent interactions. It all seems to work perfectly (if we ignore pretty much all diseases and even diseases have a clever way about them if you think about it), so why not use this non-