NUE: 10 Week Research Experience


Mentor Laboratories and Example Projects


            Boris Akhremitchev, Chemistry.  Prof. Akhremitchev's research interests are in the area of biophysical chemistry with emphasis on understanding the physico-chemical mechanisms of initial stages of amyloid protein fibril formation.  His group uses optical and scanning probe microscopy (SPM), and force spectroscopy for the measurement of nano-scale forces to understand molecular recognition and associations within supramolecular nanostructures, especially fibrils formed of disease-related proteins.  Undergraduate projects might include protein purification followed by fibril formation and characterization, testing of coupling chemistry for attachment of biomolecules to surfaces and SPM tips, and perhaps molecular force measurements (for advanced students).


            David Beratan / Weitao Yang, Chemistry. These two groups study modeling, simulation, and first principles quantum calculations of macromolecular systems and nano-materials. Prof. Beratan, the Chair of Chemistry, is exploring the molecular mechanisms that enable the function of complex biological machines and molecular materials. Recent advances from his theoretical chemistry research group have elucidated electron tunneling and hopping pathways in proteins and DNA, and have established reliable methods to compute the specific rotation angles of chiral natural products. Prof. YangÕs group develops density functional theory and linear-scale and multi-scale quantum mechanical computations for biological and nano systems. His groupÕs theoretical developments make computational modeling much more accurate and efficient.  Such modeling provides fundamental information on molecular structure and interaction, molecular electron transport properties and chemical reaction mechanism in enzymes.  Undergraduate students interested in computer modeling and theoretical nanochemistry will find a variety of intriguing projects with the Beratan and Yang groups including developing theoretical models, performing calculations on nanomaterials and biomolecular systems, and designing molecules with optimal properties.


            Ashutosh Chilkoti, Biomedical Engineering.  Prof. ChilkotiÕs group studies biomolecular materials and surface science emphasizing applications in bioseparations, biosensors, patterned biomaterials, targeted drug delivery, nano-rough surfaces for biosensor applications, and the use of environmentally responsive peptides for a variety of purposes.  Genetically encoded and environmentally responsive elastin-like polypeptides (ELPs) undergo a rapid structural transition at a characteristic temperature (soluble below and aggregated above the transition temperature).  They can be utilized for the thermal purification of recombinant proteins fused with an ELP expression tag, for targeted delivery of anticancer therapeutics to solid tumors by thermally sensitive ELP carriers, in the formation of crosslinked hydrogels for application as environmentally triggered microactuators, and as injectable tissue engineering scaffolds.  Potential summer projects for undergraduate students include mutagenesis and cloning of target protein genes as ELP fusions, preparation of surfaces nano-patterned with active biomolecules, and measurement of molecular interactions using surface plasmon resonance.


            Stephen Craig, Chemistry.  Prof. CraigÕs group examines the functionalization and organization of nanomaterials including metallic nanoparticles and polymer systems.  A primary theme is that of the rational, molecular design of materials formed by self-assembly. The group works to understand the relationship between the properties of the molecular components and those of the material, and then to use that knowledge to direct new synthetic efforts. Current interests include design and synthesis of self-healing polymers, thermodynamics and structure of DNA hybridization on gold nanoparticles, and understanding the nature of selective interactions between organic molecules and carbon nanotubes.  Summer undergraduate students would be exposed to various organic synthesis and materials characterization techniques and become familiar with hydrogels and supramolecular complexes formed from artificial polymer systems.


            Gleb Finkelstein, Physics.  Prof. Finkelstein is an experimental physicist interested in inorganic and biologically inspired nanostructures: carbon nanotubes, nanocrystals and self-assembled DNA scaffolds. These objects reveal a variety of interesting electronic properties that may become a basis for future devices and sensors. The group performs electronic transport measurements at ambient and cryogenic temperatures, develops instruments for low-temperature scanning probe methods, and uses DNA scaffolds for making self-assembled electronic nanostructures including single-electron transistors.  Projects for summer students could include measurement of the electrical behavior of nanowires formed by chemical deposition of silver or gold on DNA templates, and electrostatic trapping of nanomaterials between lithographically defined electrodes on surfaces.


            Thom LaBean, Computer Science and Chemistry.  Prof. LaBean's research focuses on DNA-based nano-engineering including the self-assembly of DNA nanostructures for biomolecular computing and for nano-fabrication applications.  The group models and designs DNA nanostructures, then anneals synthetic oligonucleotides to form nano-scale structures which perform calculations during the process of self-assembly. For nano-fabrication, the group uses DNA as a "smart material" to form specific structures with nanometer scale feature resolution, which can be used to organize other materials, such as metals and carbon nanotubes.  Applications of this work include the further miniaturization of electronic circuits, fabrication of implantable medical devices, biosensors and molecular therapeutics.  Summer students will be exposed to DNA sequence design, DNA purification and annealing, and spectroscopy and atomic force microscopy for evaluation of self-assembled nanostructures.


            Anne Lazarides, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. The Lazarides group seeks to understand how nanoscale structure controls the static and dynamic properties of bioinorganic materials and to use this knowledge to design nanostructures and materials with useful properties. A focus of the groups research is on plasmonic nanoparticle assemblies. Members of the group are designing and developing switchable assemblies that undergo structural and plasmonic changes in response to biomolecules.  Undergraduate students currently are involved in assembling and characterizing nanoparticle materials and nanoparticle assemblies. The projects provide students with experience in nanoscale materials characterization as well as an opportunity to learn about the effects of nanoscale size on material properties.


            Kam Leong, Biomedical Engineering. The Leong group looks at biomaterials design, particularly at synthesis of nanoparticles for gene and immuno-therapies, and at nanofibers for regenerative medicine. Work includes design and synthesis of self-assembled fibers and thermosensitive hydrogels for tissue engineering, synthesis of new biodegradable polymers and polyelectrolytes for drug and gene delivery, development of vehicles for vaccination via oral delivery of antigen genes, interactions of stem cells with biofunctional polymeric surfaces, and development of nerve guidance channels with drug and gene delivery functions. On nonviral gene delivery, undergraduates could work on projects involving the physical, chemical, and biochemical characterization of the DNA nanoparticles with respect to size, surface charge, composition, transfection efficiency against different cell types, and structure-property relationship of different gene carriers. On tissue engineering, undergraduates could synthesize different electrospun nanofibers with embedded drug delivery functions and study the response of adult stem cells to these nanofibers.


            Jie Liu, Chemistry. Prof. LiuÕs research interests focus on the chemistry and material science of nanoscale materials.  The group studies the fabrication and characterization of single-wall carbon nanotubes, metallic and semi-conductor nanoparticles, and metal and metal oxide nanowires for applications in chemical and biological sensing, energy generation and storage, electronics, and solid-state photon emitters.  Specific topics in his current research program include: self-assembly of nanostructures, preparation and chemical functionalization of single-walled carbon nanotubes, development of carbon nanotube-based chemical and biological sensors, SPM based fabrication and modification of functional nanostructures, and white LED using metal oxide nanowires.  Example summer projects for undergraduate students include the synthesis of metal oxide nanowires with high emission quantum efficiency and wide emission spectrum, and preparation and characterization of carbon nanotube based composites.


            David Needham, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. Prof. Needham's research program is in "biological and other soft/wet materials". His group uses micropipet manipulation to form and study micro particles, such as blood cells, lipid vesicles, emulsions and other two-phase micro systems.  Applications include anti-cancer drug delivery for treatment of solid tumors; micro and nano precipitation of salts, polymers and drugs; formation of amorphous microglasses and crystals of proteins; and the fabrication of new nano and micro composite materials inspired by biomineralization.


            John Reif, Computer Science.  The Reif group uses DNA nanostructures to form patterned lattices and to execute computations. One goal of this research is to achieve programmed patterning of self-assembling molecular structures for patterning of molecular-scale electronic circuits. The group also works on molecular robotics and has developed a number of methods for getting DNA nanostructures to move in a controllable and autonomous fashion. Summer undergrad projects could involve: design and experimental demonstrations of: (1) a self-repairing patterned 2D DNA lattice, (2) a novel 3D DNA nanostructure that forms a regular crystallizable lattice,  (3) a molecular robot programmed to route on a 2D DNA nanostructure.


            Tuan Vo-Dinh, Biomedical Engineering and Director of the Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics.  Prof. Vo-DinhÕs research activities and interests involve biophotonics, laser-excited luminescence spectroscopy, room temperature phosphorimetry, synchronous luminescence spectroscopy, surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy, field environmental instrumentation, fiberoptics sensors, nanosensors, biosensors and biochips for the protection of the environment and the improvement of human health.


            Stefan Zauscher, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science.  Prof. ZauscherÕs group seeks a fundamental understanding of the structure-property-performance behavior of peptide polymers, synthetic polymers, and cross-linked hydrogels. They use scanning probe microscopy techniques to obtain spatially resolved adhesion- and surface-force maps, and piconewton sensitive force spectrometry to measure the elastic behavior of single macromolecules and to nanomechanical behavior of stimulus-responsive polymers. One objective of our research is focused on studying the interplay between macromolecular structure and phase behavior and its effect on the elasticity and conformation of a single polymer chain. By systematically varying the molecular structure of the polymers and observing changes in the mechanical and surface chemical properties a causal link can be established between the structure of the molecular building blocks and material properties.  The group examines nanobiophysical issues such as allowable stretching forces exerted on coiled-coil polypeptides (these domains are used in muscle myosin as load-bearing members connecting protein motors to rigid rods).