Synthetic Hydrophilic Materials with Tunable Strength and a Range of Hydrophobic Interactions


  • The authors dedicate this article to the memory of Dr. Jiafang Wang


The ability to vary, adjust, and control hydrophobic interactions is crucial in manipulating interactions between biological objects and the surface of synthetic materials in aqueous environment. To this end a grafted polymer layer (multi-component mixed polymer brush) is synthesized that is capable of reversibly exposing nanometer-sized hydrophobic fragments at its hydrophilic surface and of tuning, turning on, and turning off the hydrophobic interactions. The reversible switching occurs in response to changes in the environment and alters the strength and range of attractive interactions between the layer and hydrophobic or amphiphilic probes in water. The grafted layer retains its overall hydrophilicity, while local hydrophobic forces enable the grafted layer to sense and attract the hydrophobic domains of protein molecules dissolved in the aqueous environment. The hydrophobic interactions between the material and a hydrophobic probe are investigated using atomic force microscopy measurements and a long-range attractive and contact-adhesive interaction between the material and the probe is observed, which is controlled by environmental conditions. Switching of the layer exterior is also confirmed via protein adsorption measurements.