Reconfigurable Polymers via Supramolecular Self-Sorting


Dr Nicholas Warren (School of Chemical and Process Engineering) and Professor Andy Wilson (School of Chemistry). Contact Professor Andy Wilson to discuss this project further informally.

Project description

The goal of this project is to mimic the ability of biological materials to force macromolecular reconfiguration using photo-switchable non-covalent self-sorting. Harnessing small molecule molecular recognition to control polymer architecture has tremendous potential for programming reconfigurable molecules with potential to bring about a revolution in advanced materials. Multiple hydrogen bonding arrays (MHAs) are capable of undergoing spontaneous reconfiguration to switch between different modes of molecular recognition.

Our group has recently developed self-sorting cascades and networks using MHAs that can be readily incorporated into supramolecular materials (Fig. 1a) 1,2. Combining these with controlled structure polymers which are easily prepared using the latest polymerization techniques 3,4 brings about an opportunity to produce macromolecular structures with tuneable functionality.

The student will develop a series of photo switchable ditopic hydrogen-bonding motifs that are capable of switching molecular recognition preference in response to light (Fig. 1b). These will be incorporated into a range of polymers to permit the assembly and disassembly into supramolecular block-copolymers mediated by light as demonstrated through state of the art materials characterization techniques.

This work is multidisciplinary and the successful candidate will work closely with a postdoctoral research associate as part of a team. The candidate will be situated within the School of Chemistry and Chemical and Process Engineering.

Dimerisation interactions between multiple hydrogen bonding motifs


  1. H. M. Coubrough, S. C. C. van der Lubbe, K. Hetherington, A. Minard, C. Pask, M. J. Howard, C. Fonseca Guerra, A. J. Wilson, Supramolecular Self-Sorting Networks using Hydrogen-Bonding Motifs, Chem. Eur. J. 2019, 25, 785.
  2. A. Gooch, N. S. Murphy, N. Thomson, A. J. Wilson, Side-Chain Supramolecular Polymers Employing Conformer Independent Triple Hydrogen Bonding Arrays, Macromolecules, 2013, 46, 9634.
  3. N. J. Warren, S. P. Armes, Polymerization-induced self-assembly of block copolymer nano-objects via RAFT aqueous dispersion polymerization J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014, 136, 10174.
  4. N. J. Warren, O. O. Mykhaylyk, D. Mahmood, A. J. Ryan, S. P. Armes, RAFT aqueous dispersion polymerization yields poly (ethylene glycol)-based diblock copolymer nano-objects with predictable single phase morphologies, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014, 136, 1023.

Entry requirements

Applications are invited from candidates with, or expecting, a minimum of the equivalent of a UK upper second class honours degree (2:1) in a relevant discipline, and/ or a Master's degree in a relevant discipline, or both.

How to apply

Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the university's website. Please state clearly in the research information section that the PhD you wish to be considered for is 'Reconfigurable Polymers via Supramolecular Self-Sorting' as well as Professor Andy Wilson as your proposed supervisor.

If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University's minimum English Language requirements.

We welcome scholarship applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.

If you require any further information please contact the Graduate School Office e:, t: +44 (0)113 343 8000.