Order from Chaos: Our new ARC Discovery Grant

In the 20th century, polymers (plastics) were highly valued for their bulk properties – being lightweight and mouldable into any form. Their ubiquity has truly revolutionised the way in which we live our lives. In the 21st century, we will transform the way in which we use polymers from passive, bulk materials into thin film coatings that can be applied to virtually any underlying material. Thus, metals, ceramics, glass, even textiles and paper can be covered with a polymeric coating that will enhance their functional surface properties.

Plasma treatment of a cell-culture plate

Understanding the plasma polymeristion process will help to innovate coatings on biointerfacing surfaces

One technology for making these polymeric coatings uses a state of matter known as plasma. It was previously thought that little control could be exerted over plasma polymerisations because the chaotic nature of this high-energy technique produced polymers with a scrambled structure. Led by Professor Hans Griesser, our new Australian Research Council Discovery Project titled “Order from Chaos” will help us understand how to bring order to the plasma polymerisation process and harness it to make more sophisticated polymer coatings with enhanced functionality.

Outcomes from this project will allow us to functionalise materials that will have wide use in every-day life: as coatings for textiles, medical sensors, automotive and aerospace industries. Particularly for life-sciences, plasma polymerisation is already used to improve the properties of diagnostic tools for biology (passive coatings), but our new understanding will allow more complicated surface coatings to be applied: e.g. biointerfacing surfaces as low-fouling surface coatings, or scaffolds on which to engineer tissues. It is because we will demonstrate how to add value and do more with the plasma polymerisation process that we see very good potential to help to develop Australia’s advanced manufacturing sector.

An Australian Research Council Discovery Project was awarded to Prof Hans Griesser, Prof Robert Short, Dr Bryan Coad, and Dr Andrew Michelmore for the years 2016 – 2018.