Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Chemical & Biochemical Engineering

First Advisor

Jeffrey Stansbury

Second Advisor

Kristi Anseth

Third Advisor

Christopher Bowman

Fourth Advisor

Stephanie Bryant

Fifth Advisor

Virginia Ferguson


Crosslinked polymer networks have wide application in biomaterials, from soft hydrogel scaffolds for cell culture and tissue engineering to glassy, high modulus dental restoratives. Composite materials formed with nanogels as a means for tuning network structure on the nanoscale have been reported, but no investigation into nanogels as the primary network component has been explored to this point. This thesis was dedicated to studying network formation from the direct polymerization of nanogels and investigating applications for these unique materials. Covalently crosslinked polymer networks were synthesized from polymerizable nanogels without the use of reactive small monomers or oligomers. Network properties were controlled by the chemical and physical properties of the nanogel, allowing for materials to be designed from nanostructured macromolecular precursors.

Nanogels were synthesized from a thermally initiated solution free radical polymerization of a monomethacrylate, a dimethacrylate, and a thiol-based chain transfer agent. Monomers with a range of hydrophilic and hydrophobic character were copolymerized, and polymerizable groups were introduced through an alcohol-isocyanate click reaction. Nanogels were soluble in water up to 75 wt%, including nanogels that contained a relatively high fraction of a conventionally water-insoluble component. Nanogels with molecular weights that ranged from 10’s to 100’s of kDa and hydrodynamic radii between 4 and 10 nm were obtained.

Macroscopic crosslinked polymer networks were synthesized from the photopolymerization of methacrylate-functionalized nanogels in inert solvent, which was typically water. The nanogel composition and internal branching density affected both covalent and non-covalent interparticle interactions, which dictated the final mechanical properties of the networks. Nanogels with progressively disparate hydrophilic and hydrophobic character were synthesized to explore the potential for creating densely crosslinked, small monomer free dental materials. Nanogel-based networks showed no decrease in flexural modulus between the dry and water-equilibrated states in contrast to nanogel-monomer composites that exhibited a decrease in modulus upon water infiltration. The nanogel networks also exhibited higher conversion and lower volumetric shrinkage compared to the composite networks. Adhesive nanogels were designed with amphiphilic character and specific hydrogen-bonding groups. These nanogels gelled within 10 s of low intensity UV light exposure and demonstrated the ability to bond strongly to both hydrophilic and hydrophobic substrates that were dry or under water.

Nanogel-based coatings were explored as a means to create multistructured, multifunctional polymer networks. Shape memory polymers were coated with nanogels through a dip-coating and subsequent photocrosslinking method. The presence of the coating did not affect the shape recovery of the polymer, and coatings formed with dexamethasone-loaded nanogels were demonstrated to release a physiologically relevant amount of the anti-inflammatory drug. These materials have potential application as minimally invasive implantable devices. Coatings were also formed from interfacial redox polymerizations. Nanogels with varying crosslinking density were coated onto dexamethasone-loaded networks, which had the effect of changing the diffusion coefficient of dexamethasone as it was released from the core network. A fluorescein-loaded nanogel was coated onto a rhodamine-loaded network, which provided multidrug release from both the coating and the core material through two distinct release profiles.