Harnessing the power of nature’s colour palette

  • April 10, 2014
Harnessing the power of nature’s colour palette

Derrick Roberts' research brings scientists a step closer to being able to harness the power of porphyrins to create sensors which change colour according to pH changes.

Researchers are a step closer to being able to harness the properties of compounds which are responsible for many key functions in the natural world, such as the pigments that make photosynthesis possible, to create sensors which change colour according to pH changes.

The results of scientific studies on the application of porphyrins led by Gates Cambridge Scholar Derrick Roberts [2012] have been accepted for publication in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Polymer Chemistry.

Porphyrins and related compounds are important biological molecules that are responsible for many of the colours of life: from the pigments that make leaves green to the reason why human blood is red. Due to their diverse physical and chemical properties (photosynthesis, oxygen transport, electron transport), there is a great deal of interest in using porphyrins as the basis of various non-biological technologies. However, due to their low solubility, porphyrins can be hard to process into materials that might be useful for these technologies.

In the research paper, Roberts et al. report a methodology for modularly attaching polymer chains to porphyrin derivatives in order to render them processable using techniques employed in the plastics industry. As a result of this study, the authors discovered that the porphyrin–polymer conjugates could be processed into bowl-shaped nanoparticles that change colour in response to pH changes, making them potentially useful as chemical sensors.

The research is based on Derrick’s MSc research. He is currently studying for a PhD in the Nitschke Research Group in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, for which he has received a Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

More information

Picture credit: Exsodus and www.freedigitalphotos.net.

Latest News

Gut bacteria links to immune responses in the brain

Bugs in the gut may hold the key to protective immune measures in the brain which could have implications for diseases such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, according to a new study led by Gates Cambridge Scholar Zachary Fitzpatrick. A paper based on his PhD research has recently been published in Nature and it highlights […]

Exploring the social barriers to take-up of green technology

How can rural communities be encouraged to take up green energy solutions? A new study co-authored by Gates Cambridge Scholar Ramit Debnath investigates the social barriers to uptake of household appliances fuelled by green energy. Based on research on more than 14.5K households in rural communities in Rwanda, the study, published in Renewable Energy, found […]

A new technique to decode the way the nervous system works

How do the billions of neurons in the human brain work together to give rise to thought or certain types of behaviour? A new study led by Gates Cambridge Alumnus Eviatar Yemini [2007] outlines a colouring technique, known as NeuroPAL (a Neuronal Polychromatic Atlas of Landmarks), which makes it possible – at least in experiments […]

An innovative approach to plant protection

Shauna-Lee Chai is passionate about working on wicked problems, about using her entrepreneurial skills to improve the lives of others and about seeing the big picture, something she says her experience as a Gates Cambridge Scholar contributed to. Her expertise is in invasive plant species and for three years she was Board Director of the […]