Increasingly sophisticated complex systems

Jean-François Lutz, head of the Precision Macromolecular Chemistry Laboratory and Jean-Marie Lehn, head of the Supramolecular Chemistry Laboratory, are trying to understand the cause and effect relationship between the molecular structure of very simple macromolecules and their supramolecular self-organisation into very complicated assemblies.

In Nature Reviews Materials, these teams describe how the synthesis of synthetic polymers, which are often quite simple plastic materials, has greatly developed and now provides increasingly sophisticated non-natural macromolecules. These can be as sophisticated as natural biopolymers such as proteins or nucleic acids. This molecular design has led to increasingly controlled self-assemblies that are almost as complex as living matter.

This article outlines this booming field. In general it is very hard to predict the behaviour of a complex system based solely on the molecular structure of the molecules it is made from. Jean-François Lutz tells us that “when you combine two or three macromolecules, you can understand their behaviour, but when you exceed a hundred or a thousand it becomes very nebulous.”


The article analyses the chemistry tools that help move from poorly defined conventional polymer structures to much more complex objects and particularly to dynamic and adaptive polymer materials with properties inspired by biological tissues. For example, self-repairing and self-healing polymer materials open up numerous new technological possibilities in the nanotechnology, adhesives and coatings, and biomedical materials fields. This project is supported by the Complex Systems Chemistry LabEx.


From precision polymers to complex materials and systems.
Jean-François Lutz, Jean-Marie Lehn, E. W. Meijer & Krzysztof Matyjaszewski
Nat. Rev. Mater. 2016, 16024, doi:10.1038/natrevmats.2016.24