Catalysis of Supramolecular Hydrogelation

Fanny Trausel, Frank Versluis, Chandan Maity, Jos M. Poolman, Matija Lovrak, Jan H. Van Esch, Rienk Eelkema

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)
34 Downloads (Pure)


ConspectusOne often thinks of catalysts as chemical tools to accelerate a reaction or to have a reaction run under more benign conditions. As such, catalysis has a role to play in the chemical industry and in lab scale synthesis that is not to be underestimated. Still, the role of catalysis in living systems (cells, organisms) is much more extensive, ranging from the formation and breakdown of small molecules and biopolymers to controlling signal transduction cascades and feedback processes, motility, and mechanical action. Such phenomena are only recently starting to receive attention in synthetic materials and chemical systems. "Smart" soft materials could find many important applications ranging from personalized therapeutics to soft robotics to name but a few. Until recently, approaches to control the properties of such materials were largely dominated by thermodynamics, for instance, looking at phase behavior and interaction strength. However, kinetics plays a large role in determining the behavior of such soft materials, for instance, in the formation of kinetically trapped (metastable) states or the dynamics of component exchange. As catalysts can change the rate of a chemical reaction, catalysis could be used to control the formation, dynamics, and fate of supramolecular structures when the molecules making up these structures contain chemical bonds whose formation or exchange are susceptible to catalysis.In this Account, we describe our efforts to use synthetic catalysts to control the properties of supramolecular hydrogels. Building on the concept of synthesizing the assembling molecule in the self-assembly medium from nonassembling precursors, we will introduce the use of catalysis to change the kinetics of assembler formation and thereby the properties of the resulting material. In particular, we will focus on the synthesis of supramolecular hydrogels where the use of a catalyst provides access to gel materials with vastly different appearance and mechanical properties or controls localized gel formation and the growth of gel objects. As such, catalysis will be applied to create molecular materials that exist outside of chemical equilibrium. In all, using catalysts to control the properties of soft materials constitutes a new avenue for catalysis far beyond the traditional use in industrial and lab scale synthesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1440-1447
Number of pages8
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2016

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