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Overall Research Goal

Research in the Calvo group is centered around designing functional materials (polymers) to address real-world challenges. Specifically, we use a bottom-up approach to precisely control the functionality and architecture of polymers and macromolecular systems to study how structure is related to macroscopic properties. We use organic synthesis tools to create functionalized monomers and controlled polymerization techniques to synthesize well-defined polymers with various architectures. Specific applications of interest include controlled drug delivery, antimicrobial materials, hydrogels, polymer-metal chelation, polymers in agriculture and functional materials from bio-renewable feedstocks. While addressing these real-world challenges, we also incorporate and develop novel functionalization and polymerization methods.


Antimicrobial Polymers

Antimicrobial resistance is a significant threat to our health. We are developing new antimicrobial polymers and materials to combat chronic infections and antimicrobial resistance. We are particularly interested in exploring how monomer functionality and polymer structure relate to antimicrobial effectiveness. Additionally, we seek to form a fundamental understanding of how polymers interact with microorganisms and using these interactions to modulate microbial growth.

Polymers in Agriculture

Securing our food supply is of great importance. Therefore, we are interested in exploring applications of polymers in agriculture. Polymers can be used to deliver nutrients, agrochemicals, pesticides and to store water. Our unique geographical position and strength in agricultural programs uniquely positions us to develop functional materials that will increase crop yields, reduce plant disease, and deter pests. In this area, we place a large emphasis on using sustainable materials. 

Metal Chelating Polymers

Chelating polymers are polymeric materials that contain ligands capable of coordinating metal ions. Chelating groups include organic ligands and cationic groups that bind metals through electrostatic interactions. Chelating polymers are useful in a variety of applications, including chelation therapy, radiation therapy and water purification. Our group synthesizes novel chelating polymers and investigates their ability to bind various metals, while studying structure-property relationships

Polymer Functionalization

Functionalized polymers are essential to create functional materials. A large emphasis of our research group is to develop new methods for installing functionality, including post-polymerization functionalization and incorporation of functional end groups. We are specifically interested in upcycling common commercial polymers. Additionally, we are exploring new polymerization methods to create these functionalized macromolecules. 

Drug Delivery

Polymers find various applications in drug and vaccine delivery, including polymer-drug conjugates and polymeric nanoparticles. Our group is interested in developing polymeric delivery systems for various diseases and vaccines. We utilize targeting moieties, biomimetic groups, and stimuli responsive materials to design sophisticated delivery systems that can target tissues and release the drug with spatial and temporal control. 

Functional Materials from Bio-renewable Feedstocks

Most synthetic polymers are derived from non-renewable petroleum resources. Additionally, many polymers are not biodegradable and thereby add to our worldwide plastic pollution crisis. We are designing functional materials from bio-renewable feedstocks, including carbohydrates and proteins. We seek to create sustainable alternatives to traditional materials. Our goal is to create materials that are bioderived and biodegradable while still possessing the properties to meet their intended use. 

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