The Archer Group’s research is rooted in nanoscale materials. We investigate how these materials behave at the fundamental level, as well as apply them to electrochemical energy storage (batteries). The materials we study most extensively are called Nanoscale Organic Hybrid Materials (NOHMs), which are created by attaching polymers to the surfaces of nanoparticles. Depending on the specific polymer and nanoparticle core used, NOHMs can be made to behave like a runny gel, a wax, or anything in between. If an ionic polymer is used, the NOHMs can serve as an effective electrolyte for batteries.
Nanoscale Organic Hybrid Materials (NOHMs)
Polymer-particle composites are used in virtually every field of technology. When the particles approach nanometer dimensions, large interfacial regions are created in their polymer hosts, which present opportunities and challenges for basic science research and for applications. In favorable situations, both the size and spatial distribution of these interfaces can be controlled to create new hybrid materials with physical and transport properties inaccessible in their pure constituents or in their poorly prepared mixtures.
The Archer Group studies structure, dynamics, phase behavior, and ion transport in model nanoparticle hybrid materials. Created by densely grafting short organic polymer chains or ionic liquids to inorganic nanostructures, these so-called Nanoscale Organic Hybrid Materials (NOHMs, see figure) are the first example of a polymer-particle composite in which each and every building block is itself a nanoscale hybrid material. By analogy to materials systems developed using atomic building blocks, our studies of NOHMs interactions, thermodynamics, assembly, and properties are opening new vistas in materials synthesis, condensed matter science, and for applications. Our ongoing studies show that by simple changes in the geometric and steric characteristics of the inorganic nanoparticle core and the tethered organic polymer corona, physical properties of NOHMs can be manipulated in unprecedented ways. By capitalizing upon the availability of vast libraries of possible chemistries, sizes, and topologies for the inorganic nanoparticle core and organic corona, students in the group are developing materials that form novel self-suspended suspensions in the absence of a solvent and highly filled polymer-particle composites where particles percolate to create interconnected functional networks that enable novel battery electrolyte and electrode configurations.