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Juan de Pablo

January 26, 2018 - 3:00pm
McCullough 115

Emerging Insights into Directed Assembly: Taking Examples from Nature to Design Synthetic Processes

Dr. Juan J. de Pablo



There is considerable interest in controlling the assembly of polymeric systems in order to create highly ordered materials for applications. Polymers are easily trapped in metastable, non-equilibrium states, and the processes through which they assemble become an important aspect of any materials design strategy. An example is provided by di-block copolymer directed self-assembly, where a decade of work has shown that, through careful choice of process variables, it is possible to create ordered structures whose degree of perfection meets the constraints of commercial semiconductor manufacturing. As impactful as that work has been, it has focused on relatively simple materials – neutral polymers, consisting of two or at most three blocks. Furthermore, the samples that have been produced have been limited to relatively thin films, and their assembly has been perfected on ideal, two-dimensional substrates. The question that arises now is whether one can translate those achievements to polymeric materials having a richer sequence, to monomers that include charges, to three-dimensional substrates, or to active systems that are in a permanent non-equilibrium state. This presentation will review recent work from our group and others that explains how directed assembly of polymeric materials and liquid crystals can be used to create functional thin films for applications in separations, nanofabrication, sensors and photonic materials. Building on discoveries from the biophysics literature, I will then discuss how nature has evolved to direct the assembly of nucleic acids into intricate, fully three-dimensional macroscopic functional materials that are not only active, but also responsive to external cues. We will discuss how principles from polymer physics serve to explain those assemblies, and how one might design a new generation of synthetic systems that incorporate bio-inspired designs by relying on concepts from evolutionary optimization and machine learning. 



Juan de Pablo earned his BChE from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and his PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He conducted postdoctoral research at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich and joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin– Madison in 1992, where he was the Howard Curler Distinguished Professor and the Hilldale Professor of Chemical Engineering before joining the Institute for Molecular Engineering in 2012. From 2000 to 2012 he also served as Director of the Materials Research and Engineering Center on Nanostructured Interfaces.
Juan de Pablo has co-authored over 500 publications and twenty patents. He received the DuPont Medal for Excellence in Nutrition and Health Sciences in 2016, the Intel Patterning Sciences Award in 2015, and the Charles Stine Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in 2011. He served as chair of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Advisory Committee of the National Science Foundation from 2013 to 2017, and the Committee on Condensed Matter and Materials Research at the National Research Council from 2015 to 2017. He is the founding editor of Molecular Systems Design and Engineering, and co-director of the new Center for Hierarchical Materials Design.
Juan de Pablo was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering in 2016 for “design of macromolecular products and processes via scientific computation.” He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of the American Physical Society. de Pablo was elected as Foreign Correspondent Member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences in 2014.

This event belongs to the following series