Over 400 delegates from around the world packed into the Durham Centre for Soft Matter last week for the 10th IUPAC International Conference on Advanced Polymers via Macromoleular Engineering.

Durham made an excellent location for such a meeting, the lectures being held in the decidedly 21st century drum-shaped Calman Learning Centre. The poster presentations on the other hand, detailing cutting edge work on drug-delivery, memory-storage and energy-transfer, were held in the 11th century Norman Cathedral. With the conference dinner held in the city’s castle, and the Lindisfarne gospels on display next door in the Palace Green Library, the setting was a perfect blend of old and new, beauty and function.

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A perfect location for the presentation of work blending, for instance, protein structure concepts with synthetic building blocks to form physically versatile structures, and chemical construction processes with analytical physics in order to solve biological problems. The wide range of different processes and products discussed at the conference was almost as breath-taking as the buildings providing the setting. Polymers being modified so that they fluoresce, allowing them to be used as theranostics (entities capable of both treatment and diagnosis of disease), hollow nanotubes being developed for use as nanocontainers, and modified cellulose being investigated for possible application to self-cleaning surfaces all featured. Such a wide range of structures and applications produce a similarly wide range of analytical problems.

And in many cases, the analytical solutions are being provided by Malvern Instruments.  Synthetic polymers can be used to mimic polysaccharides essential for the entry of bacterial poisons into cells, acting as anti-microbial decoys. The size-changes accompanying such interactions are being studied using a Malvern Zetasizer, as are those that occur upon altering the environment of nanoparticles with polymer brushes attached to the surface. Such particles have application to smart-fluidics devices, the brushes altering their shape depending on the fluid running over them, controlling the flow.

Polymerisation reactions are being studied using size exclusion chromatography (SEC), such as that provided by Malvern’s Viscotek range, the versatility provided by the Malvern TDA detector set-up being especially useful for polymer analysis. MALS (Multi-Angle Light Scattering) detectors also find widespread use in this field, such detectors allowing calculation of the radius of gyration, very useful for the structural analysis of branched polymers.

Given the reliance of polymer scientists on Malvern Instruments, it is fitting that the company sponsored this event, our exhibition stall receiving a lot of attention. On the basis of the work presented in Durham last week, such attention will continue to be shown for some time to come.