Supramolecular gels – A panorama of low-molecular-weight gelators from ancient origins to next-generation technologies

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Supramolecular gels, self-assembled from low-molecular-weight gelators (LMWGs), have a long history and a bright future. This review provides an overview of these materials, from their use in lubrication and personal care in the ancient world, through to next-generation technologies. In academic terms, colloid scientists in the 19th and early 20th centuries first understood such gels as being physically assembled as a result of weak interactions, combining a solid-like network having a degree of crystalline order with a highly mobile liquid-like phase. During the 20th century, industrial scientists began using these materials in new applications in the polymer, oil and food industries. The advent of supramolecular chemistry in the late 20th century, with its focus on non-covalent interactions and controlled self-assembly, saw the horizons for these materials shifted significantly beyond their historic rheological applications, expanding their potential. The ability to tune the LMWG chemical structure, manipulate hierarchical assembly, develop multi-component systems, and introduce new types of responsive and interactive behaviour, has been transformative. Furthermore, the dynamics of these materials are increasingly understood, creating metastable gels and transiently-fueled systems. New approaches to shaping and patterning gels are providing a unique opportunity for more sophisticated uses. These supramolecular advances are increasingly underpinning and informing next-generation applications – from drug delivery and regenerative medicine to environmental remediation and sustainable energy. In summary, this article presents a panorama over the field of supramolecular gels, emphasising how both academic and industrial scientists are building on the past, and engaging new fundamental insights and innovative concepts to open up exciting horizons for their future use.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberD3SM01301D
Pages (from-to)10-70
Number of pages61
JournalSoft Matter
Early online date11 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2024

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© The Royal Society of Chemistry 2023

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