"Interfacial Chemical Properties in Polymer Biomimetic Materials & Hair"

Michelle Gaines, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry
Spelman College

Microgels and hydrogels have expanded the field of soft matter. They have been built into materials for cosmetic products, biomaterials, food packaging and additives, and oil refinement. In our lab, we synthesize microgels and hydrogels to develop biomaterials from polymers that are highly sensitive to external stimuli, such as pH, temperature, or ionic solvent content. These external factors induce drastic changes to their phase behavior and cause them to reversibly change volume by absorbing and releasing the aqueous solvent that they are swollen in. Hair is a natural polymeric composite material and is one of the key characteristics that classify us as mammals. Much like our bodies, our hair tresses need water and nutrients to maintain hair health and appearance. The inner cortex of each of our hair fibers is composed of tight bundles of keratin protein. Very much like synthetic microgels and hydrogels, these natural protein keratin bundles are highly responsive to external stimuli, and they also absorb and expel water according to changes in the pH, temperature, and ionic solvent content. This presentation illustrates how our lab uses stimuli responsive microgels and collagen I hydrogels to create tunable 3D-biocomposite cell scaffolds to study malignant cell behavior. Initial qualitative results showed that fibroblasts formed large spheroids among a suspension of microgel particles, while fibroblasts appeared more circular and isolated among collagen I (0.5%) hydrogel films. This presentation will also include a discussion on how we use the principles that dictate the material properties of hydrogels to analyze the surface chemistry of textured hair. Recent experiments show that curly and straight hair can be accurately classified according to their geometric features, which will help better establish quantitative distinctions in curl pattern which dictate fiber mechanics. All research was and continues to be performed by our Spelman undergraduate students. The experience provides more opportunities to engage students in polymer science research, develop transferrable laboratory skills, promote scientific discovery, and advance the field of surface science.

Soft materials. Interfacial chemistry. Biomolecular materials. Polymer microgel particles. Self-actuating polymers. Organic electronics. Block copolymers. Self-assembly. Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM). Hydrogels. Biophysics of epithelial cell monolayers. Inorganic nanomaterials. Material properties of hair.

Michelle Gaines’s research is themed around designing and characterizing the surface chemical properties of synthetic and natural polymer systems. They will be used to develop multifunctional biomaterial substrates for regenerative medicine, cancer treatment, and personal care products. The goals of the Gaines Lab are achieved by marrying Polymer Synthesis, Materials Science, Cell Biology & Spectroscopy. Responsive biocompatible microgel polymer networks are the materials being developed into 3D biomimetic substrates that accurately match the indigenous 3D physical chemical properties of the microenvironment experienced by targeted cells and tissues. These new materials will have the potential to optimize cell culture output for tissue regeneration and probe malignant cell behavior in diseased tissues. Humans across the globe have small phenotypic variances reflected in our outer appearance, including skin tone, hair type, size, and body shape. Understanding the surface chemical properties that govern hair texture and curl pattern are of particular interest to the Gaines Research Lab because it will lead toward designing better personal care products for healthy textured hair maintenance. In addition to conducting original research on the material properties of hair, Gaines is developing courses for students to take and learn about the science that govern the unique material properties of their hair. The program will add to Spelman College’s legacy of being a global leader in producing culturally inclusive thought-leaders. The goals of the Gaines Lab are achieved by marrying Polymer Synthesis, Materials Science, Cell Biology & Spectroscopy.

The IBB Breakfast Club Seminar Series was started with the spirit of the Institute's interdisciplinary mission in mind to feature local IBB faculty member's research in a seminar format. Faculty are often asked to speak at other universities and conferences, but do not often present at their home institution - this seminar series is an attempt to close that gap. IBB Breakfast Club Seminars are open to anyone in the bio-community.