To make the micelles, the team linked a water-soluble segment to two hydrophobic segments in a mixed-arm star block terpolymer architecture. The scientists brought together a water-soluble poly(ethylene oxide), a saturated hydrocarbon polyethylethylene and a poly(perfluoropropylene) oxide.

Depending on the lengths of the different components present, the polymers formed multicompartment micelles or wormlike structures with segmented cores.

"By tying all three chains to a single juncture point, a remarkable array of multicompartment micellar structures were formed," Marc Hillmyer of the University of Minnesota told "The nature of the structures could be tuned by controlling the molecular parameters in the triblock copolymers. This 'bottom-up' engineering of nanostructures is a particularly appealing approach for the preparation of controlled supramolecular assemblies."

The presence of more than one compartment means that the nanostructures could deliver incompatible drugs at the same time and in the correct proportions.

"In addition to developing a more complete understanding of the self-assembly in these materials, we plan to combine molecular architecture control in multicomponent block copolymers with segments that contain functional attributes such as conductivity, degradability, photoactivity, ability to bind metals, and biological activity," said Hillmyer.

The researchers reported their work in Science.