New frontiers in supramolecular design of materials

Samuel I. Stupp*, Liam C. Palmer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The powerful functions of materials in the living world utilize supramolecular systems in which molecules self-assemble through noncovalent connections programmed by their structures. This process is of course also programmed by the nature of the chemical environment in which the structures form introducing the potential to autonomously use external energy inputs partly derived from fuel molecules. Our laboratory has focused over the past three decades on integrating this notion of bioinspired supramolecular engineering into the design of novel materials. We present here three projects on functional supramolecular materials that address important societal needs for our future. The first is inspired by the photosynthetic machinery of green plants, creating materials that harvest light to produce fuels for sustainable energy systems. The second example is that of life-like robotic materials that imitate living creatures and effectively transduce different types of energy into mechanical actuation and locomotion of objects for future technologies. The third topic is supramolecular biomaterials that mimic extracellular matrices and provide unprecedented bioactivity to regenerate tissues to achieve longer “healthspans” for humans. In this example, we discuss a recent breakthrough in the structural design of supramolecular motion, which surprisingly led to biomaterials with the potential to reverse paralysis by repairing the brain and the spinal cord. Graphical abstract: (Figure presented.)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)478-491
Number of pages14
JournalMRS Bulletin
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2024


  • Bioinspired soft robotics
  • Biomaterials
  • Photocatalytic hydrogels
  • Regenerative medicine
  • Supramolecular polymers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry

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