Rideal Travel Bursary recipient, Xiang Xu, reports from Liverpool, UK

01 August 2023

Xiang Xu, Rideal Travel Bursary AwardXiang Xu was awarded a Rideal Travel Bursary to attend UK Colloids 2023: An International Colloids and Interface Science Symposium in Liverpool, UK. Here he tells us about his research and his highlights from the conference. Read his report below.

"First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to the Rideal Travel Bursary for supporting me in attending the UK Colloids 2023 and offering me an opportunity to share my experience. UK Colloids 2023 is the fourth in a series of colloid science conferences, co-organised by the RSC Colloid and Interface Science Group and the SCI Colloid and Surface Science Group. The conference covered an extensive range of topics, such as colloid synthesis, self-assembly, rheology, nanotechnology, soft matter, biomaterials, and more, presented by renowned experts from academia and industry.

"Since my project is working on the functionalisation and applications of nanoparticles and hydrogels, I mainly attended sessions on “Nanoparticles & Nanostructured Materials”, “Formulation Science & Engineering”, “Rheology, Soft Solids & Complex Fluids”, and “Encapsulation and Release”. The drying process of nanoparticles always compromises the homogeneity of the particles’ size and shape, while the talk from Dr Marcel Rey introduced an intriguing way of doping surface-active polymers, such as polyvinyl alcohol, into the dispersions prior to drying. The surface-active polymers can act as suspending agents to stabilise suspensions and partially absorb onto the particles, facilitating uniform particle deposition during drying and maintaining their primary sizes and shapes. My project aims to functionalise nanoparticles with polymers to develop nanoparticle-hydrogel superstructures, and co-drying nanoparticles with the polymers of the hydrogel matrix is promising to negate aggregating and ripening.

"Another noteworthy technique I learned from these talks is Small Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) which could potentially be employed to characterise my hydrogel samples. SAXS is an analytical technique, which I have never used, that measures the intensities of X-rays scattered by a sample as a function of the scattering angle, which could indicate the nanoparticles’ size distribution, shape, structure, surface area, agglomeration behaviour of nanoparticles, and structural changes of macromolecules. It is becoming increasingly popular, and researchers with diverse backgrounds and biotech companies showcased their unique insights in SAXS during the conference. Various talks and posters in the UK Colloids 2023 discussed the application of SAXS in investigating nano-/microparticles in polymer systems, analysing nanoparticle growth in a time-resolved way, and characterising compositions of colloids/emulsions. The combination of rheological study and SAXS also enabled a detailed measurement of relations between shear strain/rate and nanoparticles’ crystallisation/orientation. I have been studying various supramolecular hydrogels like pseudopolyrotaxane, and nanoparticle-hydrogel composites materials, and as far as I have learned, SAXS is promising to help me explore the formation of supramolecular structures and elucidate how the nanoparticles incorporation would influence the hydrogel’s performance. In addition, the perception of SAXS could pave the way for the utilisation of similar techniques like Small Angle Neutron Scattering (SANS) and Wide Angle X-ray Scattering (WAXS) in my future research.

"To sum up, my participation in the UK Colloids 2023 has exposed me to a wide range of talks and posters, allowing me to connect with a bunch of peers from Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cambridge, etc. These interactions provided insights into the diverse development/application directions of polymer research and the potential future of interdisciplinary colloidal research. Meanwhile, such networking activities have exchanged our resources and laid the groundwork for possible collaborations. Overall, I am looking forward to future further communications and my advancement in polymer and colloids research.

"Many thanks to the Rideal Trust and the conference organisers!"

Xiang Xu
PhD Student
King’s College London

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