Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Chemical Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. J. Zach Hilt


Hydrogels are popular materials for biological applications since they exhibit properties like that of natural soft tissue and have tunable properties. Biodegradable hydrogels provide an added advantage in that they degrade in an aqueous environment thereby avoiding the need for removal after the useful lifetime. In this work, we investigated poly(β-amino ester) (PBAE) biodegradable hydrogel systems. To begin, the factors affecting the macromer synthesis procedure were studied to optimize the reproducibility of the resulting hydrogels made and create new methods of tuning the properties. Hydrogel behavior was then tuned by altering the hydrophilic/hydrophobic balance of the chemicals used in the synthesis to develop systems with linear and two-phase degradation profiles. The goal of the research was to better understand methods of controlling hydrogel properties to develop systems for several biomedical applications.

Several systems with a range of properties were synthesized, and their in vitro behavior was characterized (degradation, mechanical properties, cellular response, etc.). From these studies, materials were chosen to serve as porogen materials and an outer matrix material to create a composite scaffold for tissue engineering. In most cases, a porous three dimensional scaffold is ideal for cellular growth and infiltration. In this work, a composite with a slow degrading outer matrix PBAE with fast degrading PBAE microparticles was created. First, a procedure for developing porogen particles of controlled size from a fast-degrading hydrogel material was developed. Porogen particles were then entrapped in the outer hydrogel matrix during polymerization. The resulting composite systems were degraded and the viability of these systems as tissue engineering scaffolds was studied.

In a second area of work, two polymer systems, one PBAE hydrogel and one sol-gel material were altered through the addition of iron oxide nanoparticles to create materials with remote controlled properties. Iron oxide nanoparticles have the ability to heat in an alternating magnetic field due to the relaxation processes. The incorporation of these nanoscale heating sources into thermosensitive polymer systems allowed remote actuation of the physical properties. These materials would be ideal for use in applications where the system can be changed externally such as in remote controlled drug delivery.