Natural biomolecules such as peptides and DNA can dynamically self-organize into diverse hierarchical structures. Mimicry of this homopolymer self-assembly using synthetic systems has remained limited but would be advantageous for the design of adaptive bio/nanomaterials. Here, we report both experiments and simulations on the dynamic network self-assembly and subsequent collapse of the synthetic homopolymer poly(propylene sulfone). The assembly is directed by dynamic noncovalent sulfone–sulfone bonds that are susceptible to solvent polarity. The hydration history, specified by the stepwise increase in water ratio within lower polarity water-miscible solvents like dimethylsulfoxide, controls the homopolymer assembly into crystalline frameworks or uniform nanostructured hydrogels of spherical, vesicular, or cylindrical morphologies. These electrostatic hydrogels have a high affinity for a wide range of organic solutes, achieving >95% encapsulation efficiency for hydrophilic small molecules and biologics. This system validates sulfone–sulfone bonding for dynamic self-assembly, presenting a robust platform for controllable gelation, nanofabrication, and molecular encapsulation.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Physics and Astronomy
- General Chemistry
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology