Science and Engineering

Molecular design and synthesis

Overview

What is molecular design and synthesis?

Our research in this discipline examines the generation of new molecules and materials, and the study of their chemical and physical properties. Our work impacts on a wide variety of advanced manufacturing technologies, ranging from medical to industrial settings.

Practical applications

Our research is generating new materials and molecules that deliver antibacterial surfaces, new adhesives for dentistry, better batteries, brighter OLED screens and even windows that become dark with the flick of a switch.

Techniques and materials

We use synthetic techniques including organic, inorganic, organometallic, supramolecular and polymer science, to generate functional small molecules, covalent oligomers and polymers, through to complex (supra) molecular networks and materials.

Characterisation

We apply analytical and physical chemistry techniques to characterise the new compounds and materials we generate. Our researchers study molecular properties in:

  • structure
  • function
  • reactivity relationships
  • reaction kinetics and thermodynamics
  • molecular recognition
  • the effects of external stimuli (such as light) on molecules.

Rankings

We received a 5 (well above world standard) in materials engineering, and macromolecular and materials chemistry, and 4 (above world standard) in mechanical engineering, physical chemistry (including structural chemistry) and organic chemistry.

ERA (Excellence in Research for Australia) evaluates the quality of research undertaken in Australian universities against national and international benchmarks.

Projects

The Category 1 funded and major research projects we are currently leading are:

High performance inks for solution based organic light emitting diodes manufacturing

Leaders
Professor Christopher Barner-Kowollik, Dr James Blinco, Associate Professor Prashant Sonar, Dr Soniya Yambem and external collaborators.
Grant scheme
ARC Linkage Project
Dates
2018-2021
Project summary

This project aims to introduce an advanced solution processing and printing technique for organic light emitting diode (OLED) fabrication based on a set of innovative macromolecular chemistries. Solution fabrication of OLED is a challenging, yet ultimately powerful, process with key advantages over current vacuum processing systems, especially with regard to production flexibility, cost and OLED size.

The project will provide a functioning technology platform for solution OLED fabrication.

A new generation of photoresists for three-dimensional laser lithography

Leaders
Professor Christopher Barner-Kowollik, Dr James Blinco and external collaborators.
Grant scheme
ARC Discovery Project
Dates
2018-2021
Project summary

This project aims at a step-change in photoresist technology by introducing visible-light-induced photochemistry as the basis of next generation direct laser writing (DLW) technology. This willenable functional photoresists that allow precision coding of complex soft matter material properties on the three-dimensional nanoscale.

The outcomes of the project will enable the mild fabrication of three-dimensional structures with unique property control and resolution, benefitting diverse fields ranging from designer (stem) cell niches and lab-on-a-chip applications to photonic wire bonding.

A portable multiplexed sensing platform for the rapid stand-off detection of chemical hazards and concealed explosives

Leaders
Professor Godwin Ayoko, Associate Professor Esa Jaatinen, Dr Emad Kiriakous.
Grant scheme
Counter Improvised Threats Grand Challenge: an initiative of Defence’s Next Generation Technologies
Dates
2018-2021
Project summary

Researchers from QUT, Flinders Universities and the department of defence science and technology (DST) will build a miniaturised laser based dual sensing capability that can safely identify hidden chemical threats from a standoff distance and provide information about their molecular structure.

The new capability will contribute to safeguarding the Australian public, Defence personnel and sensitive infrastructure.

Light-induced chemical modularity: a new frontier in macromolecular design

Leaders
Christopher Barner-Kowollik and external collaborators.
Grant scheme
ARC Laureate Fellowship
Dates
2017-2022
Project summary

This project develops powerful light-driven chemistries for the modular construction of advanced macromolecular materials, introducing light-induced modular chemistry as a precision tool exploiting wavelength, intensity, time, and space as controlling features.

The outcome is a versatile light-based precision macromolecular synthetic technology platform. It will enable critical advances in soft matter material design and synthesis, ranging from selectivity control of chemical reactions, information-coded and biomimetic light-responsive macromolecules to advanced functional photoresists for 3D laser lithography. It will also advance materials that self-report structural transformations by light or are reprogrammable in their properties by photonic fields.

Formation, photochemistry and fate of gas-phase peroxyl radicals

Leaders
Professor Stephen Blanksby and external collaborators.
Grant scheme
ARC Discovery Project
Dates
2017-2020
Project summary

This project aims to understand how peroxyl radical reactions modulate the composition of air. The gas-phase chemical reactions of organic peroxyl radicals contribute to air quality in clean and polluted environments. However, experimental observations of these reaction intermediates and the complex mechanisms governing their formation and fate are limited.

This project will use mass spectrometry and laser-based methods to interrogate the chemical and photochemical reactions of peroxyl radicals in the gas phase. This project expects to understand the composition and dynamics of the troposphere and inform strategies to improve air quality.

Nanoparticle driven templating of microspheres as chromatographic materials

Leaders
Christopher Barner-Kowollik, Associate Professor Leonie Barner and external collaborators.
Grant scheme
ARC Linkage Project
Dates
2017-2020
Project summary

This project aims to pioneer a novel, high-performing class of nano-patterned core-shell particles as chromatographic materials. It will use advanced polymerization and particle preparation techniques in combination with degradable nanoparticles design, to enable the plug-and-play assembly of chromatographic columns.

The expected outcomes include faster measurement times and the possibility of imaging molecular weight distributions at a new level of detail. This project could place Australia at the cutting edge of size-exclusion chromatography phase design in partnership with a leading manufacturer of stationary phases.

Soft materials containing hierarchy via 3D sacrificial micro-moulding

Leader
Associate Professor Tim Dargaville
Dates
2016-2020
Project summary

The project seeks to develop sophisticated new polymeric materials and devices not possible using current manufacturing techniques. The project will focus on the development of a 3D moulding process for generating soft materials containing precise channels decorated with defined molecules.

Intended outcomes include a fundamental understanding of the 3D moulding process, new polymers and advanced tools for bioengineers for future applications such as tissue transplants, cell guides for treating spinal cord injuries, soft robotics, and microfluidic devices to study cancer metastasis.

Examination of unique tear lipids and their role in the tear film's structure and function

Leaders
Professor Stephen Blanksby and external collaborators (University of New South Wales)
Grant scheme
ARC Linkage Project
Dates
2015-2018
Project summary

The tear film lipid layer covers the eye, stabilises the tears and prevents their evaporation. Yet its structure, function and composition are yet to be fully elucidated. The aim of this project is to fully characterise the unique lipids in this layer, the long-chain omega-hydroxy fatty acids (not found elsewhere in the body), and to determine their role in its structure and function.

The project is significant because the unique combination of skills including synthetic chemistry, mass spectrometry, lipidomics, biochemistry, biophysics which aim to result in a major shift in the understanding of this layer.

Nitroxide-containing scaffolds for controlling biofilm-related infections

Leaders
Dr Kathryn Fairfull-Smith, Christopher Barner-Kowollik, Associate Professor Leonie Barner and external collaborators.
Grant scheme
ARC Discovery Project
Dates
2015-2018
Project summary

Bacterial biofilms are a major problem in healthcare systems around the world as they cause persistent and chronic infections, including those associated with medical implants and cystic fibrosis. This project aims to develop new chemical approaches to deliver nitroxides at surface interfaces and in microparticles to facilitate long term control over biofilm growth.

It is expected that these functionalised scaffolds will represent a breakthrough in the field and will have a profound impact by reducing infection rates associated with medical devices and improving airway clearance in cystic fibrosis patients.

Developing next generation technologies for unmasking the lipidome

Leader
Professor Stephen Blanksby
Grant scheme
ARC Discovery Project
Dates
2015-2018
Project summary

The term lipidome is now imbedded in the lexicon of modern biological. Nevertheless, our understanding of what constitutes a lipidome is poor. This is because the tools required to fully describe the complete range of structurally diverse lipids at a molecular level has been lacking.

The aim of this project is to develop field-asymmetric waveform ion-mobility spectrometry protocols to allow the gas-phase separation of lipid isomers and to combine this with OzID and RDD for the rapid identification and quantification of molecular lipids within complex lipidomes. It is expected that these functionalised scaffolds will represent a breakthrough in the field and will have a profound impact by reducing infection rates associated with medical devices and improving airway clearance in cystic fibrosis patients.

Fighting slime with free radicals - new surface coatings for biofilm remediation

Leader
Dr Kathryn Fairfull-Smith
Grant scheme
ARC Future Fellowship
Dates
2014-2018
Project summary

Bacterial biofilms are a major problem in a number of environmental, industrial and medical applications. They cause significant risks to human health and present an enormous economic burden to society. This project aims to develop smart polymeric coatings that will discourage bacterial attachment and ensure greater long term control over biofilm growth.

These coatings represent a breakthrough in the field and will have a profound impact in many areas, including reducing infections related to medical implants and improving the efficiency of marine engineering systems.

Permanent concentration gradients captured in molecular and framework co-crystals

Leader
Associate Professor John McMurtrie
Grant scheme
ARC Future Fellowship
Dates
2014-2018
Project summary

This project aims to design, synthesise and characterise molecular and framework co-crystals in which the molecular components are arranged in permanent concentration gradients. Synthetic crystals of this type are unprecedented. The concentration gradient has significant implications for the physical properties of the crystals (for example, optical, magnetic and electronic) as these must also vary in concert with the changing local molecular composition.

These co-crystals promise unique magnetic and optical properties that will influence design of new smart solid-state materials with potential for use in future high-technology applications.

Student topics

Are you looking to further your career by pursuing study at a higher and more detailed level? We are currently looking for students to research with us.

Contact our staff to find out more about research opportunities, or take a look at our school's student topics.

Contact

School of Chemistry, Physics and Mechanical Engineering

  • Level 7, O Block, Room 703
    Gardens Point