Much of the research was conducted using the high-powered microscopes in the UD College of Engineering's W. M. Keck Electron Microscopy Facility, which is under the direction of Chaoying Ni. Technician Frank Kriss assisted the research team.
Wooley, who is an expert in polymer chemistry, and Pochan, who is a material scientist, met at research conferences, where they discussed their respective projects. She had been designing sphere-shaped micelles for use in drug delivery and radiology, but noticed under some solution conditions that her students could produce different shapes.
Although their labs are located some 900 miles apart, the scientists say their research has been a great and synergistic collaboration.
In the world of self-assembly for nanotechnology, it's challenging to make something other than the shape of a ball, Pochan noted. If you put little balls full of a drug into the bloodstream, the body's organs and immune system will get rid of them in around a day. But if you place the molecules into long, floppy cylinders, they may stay in the body for weeks, Pochan noted.
Changing the shape of the micelle could carry a drug in the human body for a long period of time, according to Pochan, potentially providing the sustained delivery of chemotherapy from a single injection.
Moving from a sphere to a cylinder, you could conceivably deliver two or three or four different drugs in one injection, one to one part of the body and others to other parts of the body all through the same self-assembly, he said.
Although the research is far from practical applications, the team's discovery has yielded a new, fundamental bottom-up technique for building nanostructures.