Gaines Polymer Surface Chemistry Group

Research Interests

Our research is themed around examining the interfacial properties of soft materials. We create stimuli-responsive composites from nanostructured block copolymers, thermo-responsive hydrogels, and polymer colloidal microgel particles. These materials are used to study how nanostructural reversibility and phase behavior affect the desired functional properties of our synthesized materials and the interfacial behavior between other neighboring materials. Our goals are achieved by marrying Polymer Synthesis, Surface Chemistry, Materials Science, Physics, Cell Biology, & Microscopy.

Key Words

Soft Matter. Interfacial Chemistry. Surface Science. Microgels. Hydrogels. Block Copolymers. Bioconjugation. Carboiimide Chemistry. Potentiometric Titration. Fluorescence. Phase Behavior. Microphase Separation. Organic electronics. Optics. Birefringence. Self-Assembly. Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM). Inorganic Nanomaterials. Material Properties of Hair.


Michelle Gaines, Ph.D.

Principle Investigator


  • B.S. Chemical Engineering, Michigan State University, 2003
  • Ph.D. Materials Science & Engineering, North Carolina State University, 2008
  • Postdoc, Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), 2011
  • Postdoc, Emory University, 2014
  • Postdoc, Georgia Tech, 2017

Contact Information

Spelman College

Department of Chemistry, Science Center, #378

Phone: 404-270-5743

Lab: 404-270-6209

Faculty Website

Curriculum Vitae

Microgels & Hydrogels Research

Microgels and hydrogels are composed of 3D polymer networks, swollen in a good solvent. The “hydro” part in the name hydrogel is indicative of the good solvent being water, which makes up the majority of the total volume and leaves the remaining volume to the actual polymer chains and crosslinks. Polymers made into microgels and hydrogels with the same chemical makeup but would possess different physical material properties. Hydrogels are bulk films of 3D polymer networks and are often referred to as macrogels. Microgels are hydrogels made into dispersions of discrete colloidal particles, which range in size between tens of nanometers and several microns. The physical differences between microgels and hydrogels lead to different physical properties. Because microgels are much smaller in size and can be treated as a suspension of individual particles, microgels possess much faster swelling kinetics than hydrogels and they can be directed to assemble into monolayers and 2D arrays.

Temperature Response of Stimuli Responsive Microgels

AFM_Microgel Collapse.png

AFM Height Trace of micron-sized ultra-low crosslinked microgel particles.

In-Liquid Image Analysis of Soft Matter

In-Liquid Image.png

In-Liquid AFM Image of micron-sized ultra-low crosslinked microgel particles.

Ongoing Research Projects

Biomolecular Conjugation on Microgel Particles

Microgels and hydrogels can be designed with additional functionality through copolymerization and postpolymerization modification. These functional modifications can dictate the swelling dynamics of the system, and their chemistry can also induce a triggered response from an applied external stimulus (temperature, light, pH, ionic strength electric field). In this project, we study the differences in biomolecular conjugation distribution and density that result from changing the physical and chemical properties of the microgel particles. We use potentiometric and conductometric titration to measure these differences, and we compare these results with measurements collected from biomolecule assays and fluorescence microscopy.

Synthetic Culture Medium Design for

3D Cell Behavior Analysis

Our lab explores the interfacial chemistry between cells and hydrogels on biological interfaces. This project focuses on developing a synthetic 3D culture microenvironment for biomedical applications. The aim is to gain a sophisticated understanding on how cells respond to specific controlled variances in the material properties of the extracellular matrix, to predict strategies to issue control over cell behavior in physiological systems. The materials explored for this project are composites of microgel particles and collagen hydrogels.

Surface Chemistry of Hair

Hair is the primary differentiator for mammals, and humans use it to infer the state of a person’s health, class, and age. Traditionally, hair types have been defined and cared for according to three major phenotypic differences: 1) Caucasian, 2) African, 3) Asian. We are now aware of many more distinct differences between the three classes of hair, and there have been many, many products developed to care for all of these types. While most of the motivation for developing hair care products focuses on creating consumer products, there is interest in understanding the fundamental science on how the interfacial chemistry, physics and biology of hair contribute to the Material Properties that hair exhibits. The objective of this research is to develop a fundamental understanding on how specific hair products affect overall hair health. Of most interest is developing an understanding for how surfactants cause tress damage.

Biomolecular Conjugation

Bioconj Image.png

Bioconjugation Chemistry. Taken from Greg T. Hemerson. Bioconjugate Techniques, 3rd Ed. (2013)

Fibroblasts Among Microgel Particles

& Collagen Hydrogel


Top: NIH 3T3 fibroblast clusters among microgel particle matrix;

Bottom: Fibroblasts among collagen I hydrogel. Cultured after 1 day. Scale bar = 100 um.

Hair Fiber Surface Science

AA Hair Fiber_2.png

Optical coherence tomography of afro-ethnic hair fiber.

[Images Taken from Velasco et. al. Brazilian J Pharm Sci (2009).]

Research Capabilities

Atomic Force Microscopy

MFP-3D Origin.jpeg

Asylum Research MFP-3D Origin AFM

Light & Fluorescence Microscopy

Ziess Axio Observer.jpeg

Zeiss Axio Observer

Microgel Synthesis


Torrey Pines HS70 Digital Hotplate & Labconco Freezezone 2.5L Lyophillizer

High Speed Camera


Vision Research Phantom VEO410L High Speed Camera

Selected Publications

  • Douglas, A.M.; Fragkopoulos, A.; Gaines, M.K.; Lyon, L.A.; Barker, T.H.; and Fernandez-Nieves, A.; “Dynamic Assembly of Ultrasoft Colloidal Networks Enables Cell Invasion Within Nanoporous Fibrillar Polymers,”
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    2017, 114 (5): 885-890.

  • Gaines, M.K., Smith, S.D., Samseth, J., Khan, S.A., and Spontak, R.J.,"Nanoparticle Network Formation in Nanostructured and Disordered Block Copolymer Matrices," Nanoscale Res. Lett.
    2010 5, 1712-1718.
  • Gaines, M. K.; Smith, S.D., Samseth, J.; Bockstaller, M.R.; Thompson, R.B.; Rasmussen, K.O; Spontak, R.J.; Nanoparticle-regulated phase behavior of ordered block copolymers. Soft Matter
    2008 4, 1609-1612.

  • Gil, E.S.; Frankowski, D.J.;
    Bowman, M.K.; Gozen, A.O., Hudson S.M.; and Spontak, R.J.; "Mixed Protein Blends Composed of Gelatin and Bombyx mori Silk Fibroin: Effects of Solvent-Induced Crystallization and Composition,"
    Biomacromolecules 2006 7, 728-735.

Publications on Google Scholar

  • Johnson, S.S; Gaines, M.K.; Van Vleet, M.J. Jackson, K.M.; Barrett, C.; Camp, D.; Mancia, M.; Hibbard, L.; Rodreguez, A.; "Unleashing Our Chemistry Super Powers: Promoting Student Success and Well-Being at A Black Women's College during COVID-19," Journal of Chemical Education 2020, 97, 9, 3369-3373.

2020-21 Spelman Undergraduate Research Team

Nefatiti Anderson (C'21)

Nefatiti Anderson.jpg

Biology, Pre-Med

Projects: 3D Synthetic Culture Medium

& Biomolecular Conjugation


Taylor Beverly (C'23)

Taylor Beverly.jpg

Dual Degree Chemical Engineering

Projects: Hydration Behavior of Hair

& Biomolecular Conjugation


Diane Ingabire (C'21)

Diane Ingabire_Headshot.jpg


Projects: 3D Synthetic Culture Medium

& Biomolecular Conjugation


Imanii Kolailat (C'21)

Imanii Kolailat.jpg


Project: Influence of Monistat on Hair Growth


Orlasha Phillips-Pickens (C'21)

Orlasha Phillips-Pickens.png


Project: Surfactants and Tress Damage on Human Hair


Kaitlin Vaughn (C'21)

Kaitlin Vaughn.jpg


Project: Surface Effects of Dye on Hair



  • Patience Mukashyaka (C'18) - B.S. Chemistry - University of Connecticut Health Center, Ph.D. Candidate, Chemistry
  • Chloe White (C'19) - B.A. Chemical Education - University of Texas Austin, M.Ed. Graduate Student, Education Policy & Planning
  • Gabrielle Brim (C'20) - B.S. Mathematics, Dual-Degree Engineering - B.S. Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech (C'21)
  • Princess Kamuche (C'20) - B.S. Chemistry - NIH Postbaccalaureate Program
  • Leah Oliver (C'19) - B.S. Chemistry - Emory University, Intern the Carlos Museum
  • Ericka Westbrook (C'20) - B.S. Health Science - Masters of Health Science, Meharry Medical College
  • Jade Weatherington (C'20) - B.S. Chemistry - Rutgers University, M.S. Dental Scholars Program

Lab Activities

Nefatiti Anderson (C'21) & Gabrielle Brim (C'20)

Research Symposium


Nefatiti Anderson (C'21) is a Biology major and Gabrielle Brim (C'20) is a Math Dual-Degree major. Both have presented their research on bioconjugating proteins to the surface of microgels.

Jade Weatherington & Princess Kamuche (C'20)

FAMU Additive Manufacturing Workshop


Jade Weatherington and Princess Kamuche (C'20) pose outside of a FAMU workshop for their NSF CREST Center on Additive Manufacturing. Both are Chemistry majors, and worked on the bioconjugation and microgel synthesis projects.

Chloe White (C'19)

Spelman College Research Day, 2018


Chloe White (C'19) presents her research on Microgel Particle Interfacial Chemistry at Research Day at Spelman College, Spring 2018. Chloe was awarded 2nd Prize for the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department Poster Composition. Chloe will graduate in Spring 2019 in Chemistry Education. She will go on to pursue a Masters in Education Policy.

Spelman Research Day - 2017


Jade (C'20), Princess (C'20), Gabrielle (C'20), Ericka (C'20), Nefatiti (C'21), Diane (C'21), and Leah (C'20) presented for Research Day in April, 2017. Jade and Gabby won 1st and 2nd place for Best Poster for the Division of Natural and Mathematical Sciences.

There's plenty of room at the bottom. - Richard Feynman, 1965 Nobel Laureate,

Father of Nanotechnology

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