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.

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