Yvonne J. Diaz Successfully Defends Her Dissertation

Developing Novel Synthetic Methods for Tailored Sensors & Functional Materials

December 5, 2019

The ability to access functional materials through affordable and facile synthetic methods has long been sought after for various research and commercial applications. Many innovative academic syntheses, although fundamentally interesting, cannot be adopted by industry due to complexity, cost, or incompatibility for scale-up. Therefore, this dissertation highlights the development of novel avenues to produce materials tailored for either colorimetric sensing or dispersion with an emphasis on developing accessible and inexpensive methods such that they can be readily adapted to industrial processes.

A colorimetric sensor for amines is presented based on the facile reaction of activated furans with amines to form highly colored donor-acceptor Stenhouse adducts (DASAs). This synthetic method gives non-experts access to a more sensitive and selective detector from an inexpensive biomass precursor. Although the small molecule version of this detector was prone to leeching and was thus incompatible with most applications, incorporation into an oxa-norbornene polymer backbone enhanced the stability of this sensor and expanded its potential uses, particularly in aqueous media. The utility of this system for commercial applications including food spoilage detection and chemical reaction monitoring is explored.

Another area of industrial interest is the tailorability of poly(acrylic acid)s (PAA) for a number of applications including dispersants, coatings, and mineralization control where microstructure changes to these materials have been shown to produce dramatically different macroscopic properties. A universal method to prepare well-defined PAAs with readily interchangeable chain end chemistries is described. This new platform provides easier access to targeted PAA structures and facilitates future studies into the structure-property relationship of these versatile compounds. Additionally, this process may enable the creation of novel dispersants for improved paint formulations or other related fields.

Industrial innovations often arise from developments in academic laboratories. However, translation of these developments into modern technology can be hindered by inaccessible chemistries or overly complex syntheses. This dissertation presents two synthetic strategies to access functional materials for a range of targeted applications, each with methods that can be readily applied in an industrial setting thus helping to expand the utility of novel academic syntheses for industrial use.