Functional Protein Based Materials

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Virginia Tech

The proteins wheat gluten and gelatin were tested for use in biocomposites and soft actuating materials, respectively. In Chapter II, the self-assembly mechanism of trypsin hydrolyzed wheat gluten (THWG) into rigid β-sheets was applied to an aqueous polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) environment. Aqueous PVA was used in order to determine the effects of an aqueous environment other than pure water on THWG self-assembly kinetics and to realize the potential use of THWG as a nanofiller in polymer matrices. THWG was able to self-assemble into anisotropic spikes and agglomerates of spikes called "pompons" through hydrophobic interactions. THWG self-assembly kinetics were retarded in aqueous PVA solutions compared to water, with the highest molecular weight PVA solution showing the slowest self-assembly kinetics. Chapters III and IV explore the potential of gelatin hydrogels for use in soft actuators. A gelatin bilayer system was designed where an active layer swelled more than a passive layer to cause the system to bend/actuate in response to an environmental stimulus. In Chapter III, gelatin layers were chemically crosslinked to different degrees with glutaraldehyde to achieve bilayer bending when placed in water. Curvature of the bilayer system was found to be dependent on the difference in volume swell ratio between the two layers. It was determined that maximum bending occurred when the passive layer swelled to 60% of the swelling of the active layer. Addition of pre-gelatinized starch to the active layer increased layer swelling and bilayer curvature. Treating the starch containing bilayer with -amylase returned the bilayer to its original shape. In Chapter IV, a pH responsive gelatin bilayer was constructed using Type A and Type B gelatin. Type A and Type B gelatin gels had different chemical properties and swelled to different volumes based on the gel solution pH. Bilayers constructed from Type A and Type B gelatin exhibited different degrees of bending when placed in various pH solutions with maximum curvature occuring at pH 10. A cyclic actuator could be formed when the bent bilayers were placed in a minimum of 0.01M NaCl solution. Placement in salt solution resulted in the unbending of the bilayer. Overall, this work demonstrated the various applications of proteins as functional and green materials.

Protein, Amyloid, Actuators, Gelatin, Soft Robotics