ACS: Clicking and beeping

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I went to a talk on by UCSB’s Robert Vestberg, on “Synthesis of hydrogels with well defined network structure using Click chemistry”, because I have been hearing this buzzword floating around – “click chemistry”—and I wanted to figure out what it was.

But first, hydrogels. Hydrogels are polymers all cross-linked together and stuffed with water. They can be useful in medicine, for example, as soft contact lenses. They are biocompatible, key molecules can diffuse through them, and they are tough. Often the crosslinks are induced by a blast of radiation—like UV light, for example.

Vestberg and his colleagues are using “click chemistry” to do their linking. The click concept was described quickly as a reaction catalyzed by copper (I) that seems to be a one-size-fits-all room temp process that organizes your molecules into a regular structure. Functional groups can be knitted right in.

At least that was the impression I got. The meeting room in the Marriot was next to some sort of noisy kitchen or workroom, and it was hard to concentrate. It sounded like they were banging the lumps out of large cookie sheets on the other side of the wall. The “backing up” beep of some kind of vehicle was also intermittently heard.

Anyway, the hydrogels are made in little Teflon molds. You can make them with other fluids besides water, too. “We’ve done it in crappy Australian wine that I got from my boss,” says Vestberg, who is pleased with his gels, which can be stretched to 1500% their original length before they break, much more than UV crosslinked hydrogels.

After the talk, I did some reading on click chemistry, which was invented by Barry Sharpless. It seems like a kind of Lego chemistry to me. You may be interested to know that searching the program of abstracts for this meeting with the term “click” yields 42 hits.