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Statistical mechanics of macromolecular packing; Complex order in frustrated soft molecular systems; Self-assembly of biopolymer aggregates
An ongoing challenge of materials science is to identify or to construct self-assembling molecular systems that generate well-controlled structure on nanometer length scales. Underlying this technical goal is the fundamental question, how do we understand the relationship between molecular-scale structure and the longer-ranged order of the self-assembled aggregate?
One approach to this question used in the group, focusses on synthetic block copolymer systems as the prototypical self-assembling amphiphile. We take advantage of powerful analytic and numerical field-theoretic methods available for studying high-molecular weight copolymers, seeking to establish the link between contraints and preferences for inter-molecular packing geometry and the structure and thermodynamics of assembly.
Because biopolymers (DNA, f-actin, microtubules) are themselves imbued with well defined nanometer-scale structure, they hold particular promise as a means of scaffolding order at this size scale. It is well-known that highly-charged biopolymers aggregate in the presence of oppositely charged, poly-valent ions or specialized linking proteins. Owing to the considerable stiffness of biopolymers, aggregates, or bundles, form with a high degree of two-dimensional order, instilling the bundle with unusual mechanical properties, intermediate to a two-dimensional and three-dimensional solid. Relying on generic, elastic descriptions of these aggregates, we seek to understand the subtle interplay between filament packing, helical biopolymer structure and overall bundle size and composition.
Honors and Distinctions:
National Science Foundation CAREER Award
Sloan Research Fellowship