Graduation Year




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Donald T. Haynie, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kirpal Bisht, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jianjun Pan, Ph.D.


dielectric relaxation, neo-Hookean, polyelectrolyte, polypeptide, strain, stress


Polypeptides are polymerized chains of amino acids linked covalently through peptide bonds. Polyelectrolyte polypeptides are polypeptides with electrolyte repeating groups. Several amino acids contain ionizable side chains which result in charge distributions when dissolved in aqueous solutions. This dissertation is motivated by a desire to gain knowledge of polyelectrolyte polypeptides as recent advances in chemical synthesis of polypeptides have made possible the fabrication of designed polypeptides that do not naturally occur in nature. Potential applications of newly designed polypeptides span the range from medical to clothing and energy even to robotics.

In this dissertation we compare the characteristic behavior of two polypeptide polyanions: Poly-(L-Glutamic Acid) [PLE] and Poly-(L-Glutamic Acid4, Tyrosine1) [PLEY(4:1)]. Comparative characteristic behaviors of each is conducted through relaxation phenomena in the context of mechanical elasticity measurements of hydrogels and dielectric relaxation of aqueous solutions in a radio frequency range of 1 MHz to 1000 MHz. Hydrogels are fabricated by crosslinking each polyanion with Poly-(L-Lysine) [PLK], a polycation, via the crosslinker 1-ethyl-3-(3-dimethylaminopropyl) carbodiimide hydrochloride (EDC). Elasticity and viscoelasticity measurements are conducted in a fixture designed by our lab. Dielectric relaxation behavior is studied on aqueous solution of both PLEY and PLE using a capacitive fixture, also designed in our lab. RF signals provided by an impedance analyzer are converted to permittivity and dielectric loss measurements. Peaks in dielectric loss provide evidence of relaxation mechanisms. A comparison of experimental results to theoretical expectations reveal both expected and some surprising behavior. Relaxation times for crosslinked hydro-gels scale according to theoretical expectations according to so-called reptation dynamics. However, relaxation times of aqueous solutions did not scale as entangled polyelectrolytes. First, both PLEY and PLE scaled as neutral polymers rather than polyelectrolytes. This was expected because of the high concentrations studied. However, due to the high concentrations, it was expected that polypeptides were entangled in solutions. Data compared to theory did not support this expectation.

We, additionally, conducted a self-crosslinking experiment of a polyampholyte: RADA16. RADA16 is known to self-assemble into nano-fibers formed by -sheet stacking. The self-crosslinking was also mediated by EDC. Results of crosslinking showed formation of polypeptide spherules as well as nano-crystals nominally orthorhombic in shape. It was not possible to ascertain composition of the nano-crystals due to both the limited amount of raw material available and the capabilities of measurement equipment as of this writing. It is hypothesized that nano-crystals are composed of some type of urea by-product from the crosslinking reaction. The spherules, on the other hand, seem to be described by the theory of hydrophobic polyelectrolytes.

Additional research conducted with regards to electromagnetic hydrodynamic flows during the time frame of this dissertation is also included. The research uses hydrodynamic conservation equations as a starting point to derive one electromagnetic flow momentum equation analogous to the Cauchy momentum equation of hydrodynamics. It also introduces a mass- energy conservation equation for electromagnetic flow that has no hydrodynamic analogue.

We begin this dissertation by introducing in Chapter 1 some of the theoretical background necessary to understand results from experiments. Chapter 2 introduces experimental results from elasticity and viscoelasticity measurements and Chapter 3 explains the dielectric relaxation experiment. We then follow with Chapter 4 which presents conclusions from mechanical and dielectric relaxation experiments in a concise format. Results from the self- crosslinking of RADA16 are presented in Chapter 5. Finally, the additional research on electromagnetic flow is presented in Chapter 6.

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