Transformersomes: shape-shifting polymer nanostructures


Synthetic polymers can self-assemble into an impressive spectrum of well-defined nanoscale architectures that behave in intriguing ways, from catalysing chemical reactions to interacting with living cells. In this project, we will design self-assembled polymer nanostructures that undergo drastic shape transformations when exposed to light and/or biochemical stimuli (for example changing from spherical capsules to worm-like fibres). These 'transformersomes' (transformable polymersomes) will establish a new way to design smart nanomaterials that re-express their shapes and compositions depending on their local environment, which has immediate ramifications for designing dynamic biomaterials that adapt to changes in living tissue. 

A complimentary scholarship for this project may be available through a competitive process. To find out more, refer to the Faculty of Science Postgraduate Research Excellence Award and contact Dr Derrick Roberts directly.

A successful candidate will have an undergraduate degree with honours or an honours-equivalent qualification. A background in synthetic chemistry (preferably organic and/or polymer chemistry) and practical laboratory work is strongly recommended. This project may offer the (optional) opportunity travel to the United States (University of California Santa Barbara) for work with our collaborator.


Dr Derrick Roberts

Research Location

School of Chemistry

Program Type



This is a multidisciplinary project that combines synthetic organic/polymer chemistry, (macro)molecular spectroscopy and physical-organic chemistry. This will provide the PhD student with an integrated platform from which to develop a broad research skill set. Throughout the project, the PhD student will synthesise bottlebrush block copolymers with degradable ‘bristles’ that break away upon irradiation. These polymers will be used to study controlled morphology transformations of self-assembled nanostructures using state-of-the-art spectroscopic techniques (e.g., neutron scattering and liquid cell transmission electron microscopy). 
The expected outcome of this project will be a library of fully characterised polymer nanostructures that can express different nanoscale architectures upon selective irradiation. This library will be used to devise general 'rules' about how to map different combinations of stimuli onto specific transformation products. The student will receive world-class training in synthetic organic polymer chemistry, high-resolution characterisation techniques, molecular self-assembly and supramolecular design principles. There will be opportunities to attend conferences and lead authorship on journal articles, for which the student will receive direct supervision and mentoring.

Additional Information

Additional supervisors for this project include Dr Markus Muellner, Senior Lecturer and ARC DECRA Fellow, School of Chemistry
A complimentary scholarship for this project may be available through a competitive process. To find out more, refer to the Faculty of Science Postgraduate Research Excellence Award and contact Dr Derrick Roberts directly.

HDR Inherent Requirements In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Examples of inherent requirements may include: 

  • Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
  • Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
  • Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
  • Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting); 
  • Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
  • Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
  • Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights; Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
  • Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
  • Hold a current scuba diving license;
  • Hold a current Working with Children Check;
  • Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.) 

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Synthetic chemistry, Organic chemistry, supramolecular chemistry, polymer science, molecular self-assembly, stimuli-responsive materials, materials science, RAFT polymerisation, ATRP, self-immolative polymers, practical laboratory training, neutron scattering, transmission electron microscopy, Biomaterials, drug delivery, Sensing, sustainable materials, smart materials

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 2653