Molecular Design as an Enabler of Technological Innovation
The ability to synthesize precisely-defined molecular materials allows one to understand basic physical phenomena underlying properties of interest and enables the generation of new technologies. A journey of discovery will be described with origins centered on our interest in understanding through-space and through-bond electronic delocalization and how electrostatic interactions can be used to modulate the photophysics and electronic structure of conjugated polyelectrolytes. This foundational work led to the design of optically-amplified biosensory platforms and a commercial program that led to cytometry reagents that are now widely used in medical research fields. Through the ability to tailor optoelectronic and self-assembly processes, molecular semiconductors were designed that are the basis of transparent organic solar cell development programs. Extension of molecular architectures so that they contain predefined ionic and hydrophobic domains, namely conjugated oligoelectrolytes (COEs), were strategically developed with the view of facilitating extracellular electron transfer in microorganisms. These findings led to the idea of “Living Composites”, which combine a soft conductive gel matrix with electrogenic bacteria. While early in the development program, it is envisioned that the three-dimensional aspect of the composites will accelerate progress in bioelectrochemical technologies relevant for energy production, wastewater remediation, and electrosynthesis. As a final point of discussion, we will show how the modulation of membrane properties afforded by COEs has provided us with a new type of potentially transformative platform for developing new antibiotics. Above all, the goal of the presentation is to illustrate how the synthesis of new molecules provides the connection between what may appear at first sight to be unrelated technological challenges.