Photo-responsive materials, like sunglass coating that becomes darker under strong sunlight, have promising potential for a variety of applications, such as data storage, drug delivery, energy conversion and photo-electronic switches. To explore this potential, Associate Professor of chemistry Yi Liao has received a National Science Foundation grant of almost $230,000.
Liao’s NSF support will help him to investigate a single powerful approach that can lead to various photo-responsive materials. These include flexible materials with size and shape changeable by light; mechanical materials with strength changeable by light; conductive materials with conductivity changeable by light; optical materials with absorption and emission wavelengths changeable by light; drug delivery materials that release drugs under visible light and more.
Liao’s approach uses a special type of molecule called “photoacid,” which changes its acidity under photo-irradiation. Liao has discovered a novel type of photoacid that can largely and reversibly change its acidity under visible light.
“By incorporating this type of photoacid into well-designed polymers, the change of acidity can translate into changes in the various properties,” said Liao.