Research

Our Goal: Research in the CaireSilva Group is dedicated to the development and study of synthetic materials inspired by nature. We are particularly interested in creating programmable hierarchical systems with life-like properties for applications in chemical synthesis, molecular sensing and biomimicry.

Motivation: 

In today’s rapidly evolving world, the need for sustainable solutions has become more apparent than ever. Conventional chemical processes, burdened with challenges such as excessive waste generation, use of toxic solvents, and energy-intensive steps, demand immediate attention. As environmental concerns grow, there is an urgent need to develop greener alternatives that prioritize resource conservation and reduce environmental impact. 

Our approach focuses on harnessing the remarkable sustainability solutions that already exist in nature. We are inspired by the way biological cells efficiently and precisely organize complex chemical reactions. In particular, we are fascinated by how cells compartmentalize reactions using adaptive cellular compartments such as vesicles and biomolecular condensates. These specialized microenvironments enable precise control of catalytic chemical reactions. Our work revolves around the design of novel materials that mimic these biological strategies of compartmentalization, adaptivity, and catalysis. Our goal is to develop environmentally benign and efficient chemical systems that enhance selectivity and productivity while minimizing environmental impact.

Our areas of interest include (click to learn more):

Multicompartment engineering

Emulating Nature’s Precision in Synthetic Systems

 

Eukaryotic cells feature a compartment-in-compartment architecture that maximizes controllability and efficiency of internal cellular processes, many of them incompatible with each other.  Our research involves the development of new materials and processes to engineer entirely synthetic systems with multi-compartmentalization, mimicking the architecture of living cells. These synthetic systems exhibit multifunctionality and find applications in catalysis, biosensing, and biomimicry.

 

Our approach involves the seamless integration of synthetic compartments, including polymer/lipid vesicles and coacervates, through precise assembly methods such as droplet-based microfluidics. We delve into the chemical functionality of these systems by incorporating various catalytic components such as nanoparticles, photocatalysts, and enzymes. Through this synergy of techniques and elements, we strive to create innovative synthetic systems with enhanced efficiency and functionality that mimic the intricacies of natural cellular processes.

Smart soft compartments

Exploring Amphiphilic Block Copolymers for Selective Transport and Vesicle Growth

 

The cell membrane plays a crucial role not only in providing protection and shape, but also in regulating the flux of molecules and ions between the cell and its external environment. This property is of great importance in the design of synthetic cell-like systems, where precise control of molecular transport is essential for their proper functioning.

 

Our research focuses on the design and study of amphiphilic block copolymers. These remarkable materials can self-assemble in aqueous media to form soft compartments known as polymer vesicles. The unique structure and chemical functionality of block copolymers allows us to easily modify them, giving us unprecedented control over the physical and chemical properties of the vesicles they produce. Our primary goal is to develop polymer vesicles with two essential capabilities. First, we aim to enable the selective transport of molecules across the vesicle membrane, mimicking the natural selectivity of the cell in what it allows to pass through. Second, we are working to enable polymer vesicles to grow and divide, mimicking one of the fundamental processes that occur in living cells.

 

By harnessing these capabilities, our research seeks to create synthetic cell-like systems that can efficiently control molecular transport, promoting applications in diverse fields such as drug delivery, nanotechnology, and biomimetic materials.

Adaptive cell-like systems

Cells possess a remarkable ability to adapt to their environment, enabling them to interact with and respond effectively to various stimuli. This adaptability is a powerful trait, as it allows cells to optimize energy usage and minimize wasteful or detrimental behaviors. In our research group, we are developing stimuli-responsive coacervate droplets and synthetic vesicles, which serve as versatile compartments capable of adapting to changes in their surroundings. These adaptive compartments can undergo shape changes, phase transitions, and modifications in chemical properties, all in response to external triggers like light, pH, and temperature.

 

The significance of this research extends to various technological applications, particularly in the realm of efficient biosensors and micro-bioreactors. These adaptive compartments offer the potential to perform chemical tasks autonomously, showcasing their utility in creating cutting-edge technologies with improved functionalities and responsiveness.