Title: Chemical nanosensors based on moleculalry imprinted polymer nanocomposites synthesized by controlled radical polymerization.
Author: Carlo GONZATO
National thesis number: 2012COMP2035
- Molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) are synthetic receptors, also known as antibody mimics, that can specifically bind target molecules. Molecular imprinting has emerged, over the last 30 years; it is an extremely versatile strategy for synthesizing networks possessing high affinity and selectivity for a chemical species, used as a molecular template during their synthesis. The wide variety of materials and formats that are accessible through this strategy has resulted in a broad spectrum of applications for such MIPs, ranging from separation to sensing, catalysis, drug delivery, etc. Since the beginning, the great majority of the imprinted networks has been synthesized by assembling vinyl monomers via free-radical polymerization (FRP). This polymerization method represents a convenient choice for synthesizing MIPs, due to its easy setup, versatility, tolerance with respect to many solvents and functional groups. However, some drawbacks greatly affect the possibility of achieving of suitable degree of control over some “polymeric” parameters which become important for specific applications. The introduction of controlled/”living” radical polymerization (CRP) techniques has then represented an opportunity for MIPs to reduce, and in some cases even to overcome, some of their limits arising from FRP. In this respect, this Ph.D. thesis has studied how the use of RAFT polymerization, one of the most applied CRPs, can be advantageously used to syntheze MIPs. This has been done by focusing on the main characteristics of CRPs: their living and controlled nature. The living nature has been exploited during the first part of this work, which involved the synthesis of superparamagnetic molecularly imprinted nanocomposites via surface-initiated RAFT polymerization of p(EGDMA-co-MAA) on amino-modified Fe3O4 nanoparticles. The polymer grafting has been performed using an unusual stirring technique (i.e. ultrasonication) during the polymerization step, and by testing different polymerization solvents for evaluating their effect on the composite structure. It has been observed that the grafting resulted in homogeneous polymer layers, the thickness of which could be controlled by adjusting the RAFT/radical source ratio. Moreover, the living nature of RAFT fragments has been exploited for post-functionalizing the surface of a composite particle with p(EGMP) brushes, thus demonstrating the potential of fine-tuning the particle surface properties through the living chain ends. In the second part of the thesis, an in-depth study has been performed on the effects induced by the use of controlled (RAFT) polymerization conditions on the binding behaviour and structural parameters of bulk acrylic and methacrylic MIPs and the corresponding non-imprinted polymers, synthesized by RAFT and FRP with varying cross-linking degree. This strategy actually provided scaffolds with progressively increased degree of flexibility (especially in the case of acrylics) which allowed visualize the enhancement of binding and structural differences arising from the polymerization technique. As a result, it has been observed that the use of controlled (RAFT) conditions induced, on the imprinted networks, an increased template affinity over equivalent FRPs, and it has been demonstrated that this improved affinity can be related to more homogeneous distributions of the cross-linking points achieved during RAFT polymerization. The third part presents preliminary results toward the synthesis by RAFT of individual multi-composite MIP nanosensors using enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) for detection.