University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center

This seed project aims to develop model light-responsive switchable polymers for investigating the impact of intermolecular interactions, nanoscale chain conformation, and emergent mesoscale order on bulk ionic transport in response to light. The focus is on polymeric ion conductors for use in flexible electronics, addressing the trade-off between ionic conductivity and mechanical performance. We will use crystallizable networks with engineered defects, where crystallized domains provide mechanical stiffness, and defects facilitate ionic conductivity in amorphous regions. Photoswitches, organic molecules sensitive to light, will be incorporated to precisely tune molecular interactions governing ion transport. The interdisciplinary team plans to conduct complementary experiments, simulations, and in operando characterization to control ionic interactions, chain dynamics, and structure. Using the insight gained from this multi-pronged approach, the ultimate goal is to translate this knowledge to the design of organic ion conductors for flexible sensors, batteries, and memristors.

This work will:

  • Elucidate the role of photoswitch conformation on polymer mobility and ion binding using a combined experimental and simulation approach.

  • Understand the incorporation or exclusion of azobenzene units within crystalline domains, using techniques like GIWAXS, rheological and mechanical characterization.

  • Develop methods to study the effects of azobenzene isomerization on ionic conductivity in the polymer materials in situ, integrating pump-probe UV-spectroscopy, impedance spectroscopy, and X-ray scattering for real-time measurements.

Antonia Statt
Materials Science & Engineering
Alexa Kuenstler
Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering
Theresa Schoetz
Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering