Hello and welcome to my 10th blog for FoodSmartphone project! Greetings from warm and sunny Stellenbosch, South Africa! However, at this moment when I write this blog it is pouring rain here, good timing to start writing blogs 😊. So, what do I do in South Africa? I came for one of the biggest conferences in polymer science to share my research on antifouling bioactive coatings and learn about new things in this field. It is one of one-time perks and a sort of reward for long working hours. It is a possibility to go to faraway places (preferentially warm 😊) to exchange knowledge and ideas with other fellow scientists.
You might say: polymers and FoodSmartphone do not really combine. So, let me explain what was my first task in FoodSmartphone project. My first milestone in this project was to create antifouling coatings. It is a coating, that resist non-specific adsorption of proteins. Why this is a problem? Those non-specifically adsorbed proteins affect the sensitivity of biosensors and reduce the possibility to find your target molecule. For example: let’s try to find Wally on the picture bellow, you will admit that finding him is rather hard, in the same way other proteins in some complex medium like milk or food extracts or other liquids make it hard for biosensor to find toxins, allergens, pathogens and sometimes create false positive results. Think how many times when you looked for Wally on this picture you thought that you had found him but it was something or someone else. The same struggle faces any biosensor device.
It is much easier to find Wally on the second picture (check out below). My job as a researcher in the FoodSmartphone project is to create coatings on the surface of the biosensor that will allow us to see our Wally clearly, when I say Wally I mean pathogen, allergen or toxins in food. This will allow us to have efficient and reliable biosensor. So how to create those coatings? There are numerous ways how you can make the but the best option to coat surfaces with polymers, not just polymers a polymer brushes. Let me explain one by one: a polymer is a big molecule that consist of many small linked molecules, which we call monomers. Most of things around us are made from polymers, for example plastic chairs and plastic bottles. But also any kind of wood is a cellulose based polymers, the material from which our clothes are made of are polymers, and you can even go as far as to call proteins in our body and nature polymers 😊. OK, then what are polymer brushes? They are also polymers but in case of brush one side of the polymer chain is attached to a surface. We usually grow those polymers like trees from surfaces by adding in control way one monomer after another.
So, my first task was to create those polymer layers. However, we not just created those layers but also adopted a new technique for creating those layers using light and an awesome catalyst. This work of my first year in FoodSmartphone project will soon be published as an open-access article in Advanced Materials Interfaces. Check out my twitter and also follow me 😊 for those updates.
Thank you for reading till the end.
The answer to Wally puzzle is below 😊
Special thank you for the awesome idea how to explain antifouling in the simple metaphor of “Where’s Wally?” to my supervisor Dr. Jacob Baggerman 😊
Also, second after credits scene, turtle eating grass at Jan Marais Natural reserve in Stellenbosch South Africa 😊