Looking at the future with a fine tooth comb…Designing smart helical polymers with a controlled response to external stimuli

Get to personally know how the future will be. Our researchers present you with their most promising research lines which help improve quality of life and create jobs, wealth and social and economic development.

Today we present you with a new project: Designing smart helical polymers with a controlled response to external stimuli

Name and surname(s): Félix Freire

Research Group: Ricardo Riguera/Emilio Quiñoá

Institution: CIQUS (University of Santiago de Compostela – USC)

Project: Helical polyphenylacetylenes are a kind of dynamic polymers made up of helices whose direction of rotation can be changed once the material has been synthesised by applying external stimuli like temperature, pH of the medium, light or chiral substances.

In our research group, we carry out both the design and synthesis of sensor polymers which respond to new stimuli (metal ions, polarity, the donor character of solvents, etc.) and the search for new materials based on nanostructuring processes which by combining different properties (optical, conducting, magnetic, encapsulating, etc.) lead to nanocapsules, nanospheres, stereocomplexes and other nanocompounds that display a multifunctional behaviour with applications in different scientific areas.

Expected results

The rational design of monomers has enabled sensor polymers to be developed which selectively respond to the valence of metal ions. Besides, the capacity that metals have to interweave polymer chains has been put to best use to generate nanostructures of a controlled size and chirality (metal complexes-helical polymer) and with encapsulating capacity.

New designs have allowed the generation of a helical polarity sensor and of a donor character of solvents that helps distinguish among four different systems of the medium: donor/polar, donor/apolar, non-donor/polar, non-donor/apolar.


The project is currently in its development stage, specifically in preparing and assessing new polymers which selectively respond to new stimuli, and in assessing structures which give way to new nanostructural materials (i.e., stereocomplexes).

In the next project stage, the mechanism that transfers structural information through a helix will be analysed: teleinduction or direct induction, as well as different chirality amplification mechanisms (direction of the helix rotation).The incorporation of new properties will also be studied (i.e., conductors) into system.


A future generation of patents is expected in the field of chemical and physical sensors because the response of these polymers, nanospheres, etc., to different external stimuli makes them excellent sensors.

Likewise, the encapsulating properties displayed by previously generated nanospheres (made from magnetic materials, fluorophores, quantum dots, etc.) will probably generate patents to be applied in other areas.


Although this research line is a very recent one, collaboration agreements have already been reached with Spanish research groups (University of Barcelona, University of Malaga, etc.).

Nowadays, collaborations and technology transfers beyond our frontiers are being explored.


Despite this being a recent project, it is already reaping its first successes, including several articles that have been especially highlighted and featured on the cover of several of the most important journals in this chemistry domain. This will no doubt help establish relations with institutions and overseas companies.

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