Role of Nanoparticles in Nanocomposite Hydrogels to Improve Protein Separation
Hydrogels are composed of an entangled polymeric network swollen with water to produce a three-dimensional matrix. Hydrogels are a highly versatile material due to their unique properties such as high-water content, softness, flexibility and biocompatibility. This versatility makes hydrogels very attractive for research in areas such as tissue engineering, clinical diagnostics, bio-separations, and drug delivery. However, hydrogels exhibit weak mechanical strength and, therefore, improvement in the durability of the gel is of high interest. Furthermore, the understanding of the role of internal structure (of the hydrogel) in electrophoresis of, for example, proteins and how to tailor such structure to enhance the separation of macromolecules is highly desirable. To aid with this goal, the role of embedded particles on the structure of hydrogels and how these particles might affect hydrogel strength and the electrophoretic separation of protein standards is proposed as key objectives. In addition, the change in rheological characteristics of the gel will be studied by using oscillatory deformation tests. Through the research, the investigators will quantify changes in protein separation and changes in the hydrogel rheology based on the size, shape, concentration, and other characteristics of the embedded particles. A complementary objective is to outline further research goals related to these changes.