INSPIRE: Programming Materials via Biomolecular Engineering

Project: Research project

Project Details


This INSPIRE award to University of Connecticut is partially funded by the Biomaterials program in the Division of Materials Research in the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences. The other three interdisciplinary programs that are partially funding this award are the Biosensor program and the Biotechnology, Biochemical, and Biomass Engineering program in the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, & Transport Systems, and the Materials for Surface Engineering program in the Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation. All these three programs are in the Directorate for Engineering. The objective of this project is to apply nature and biology as design guidelines in the creation of new generation of active materials. Over the years, the field of materials science has evolved from the study of inert materials to the design of active materials. However, current active materials usually need physical stimulation from light, temperature, ultrasound, electricity, and magnetism. These physical stimuli lack a high resolution controlled at the molecular level. Their reliance on complicated instruments and operations also limit the wide applications of active materials. The main thrust of this award will be is in developing programmable surfaces that can be used to change their properties on demand, and to produce materials with diverse but predetermined functions. As proof of the concept and to validate the hypotheses, the investigator will modify selected surfaces with two or more sets of oligonucleotides with specific and predetermined binding properties. Hybrid oligonucleotides with nanomaterial cargo-carrying drug (or enzymes or other functional materials) could be used to program the absorption and desorption and release the contents of nanomaterial cargo in the presence of a set of 'mutated' oligonucleotides on the surface. The mutated hybrid oligonucleotides could be altered based on the hybrid nucleotides with the nanomaterials cargo. The success of the proposed research holds great potential of transforming the way current and future materials are developed for various applications such as human healthcare and materials manufacturing. The scientific broader impact of this award will be in developing multifunctional and adoptive materials for potential applications such as surface processing, drug delivery, biosensing, catalysis among others. The broader impacts of this project will be promoted by diverse educational and outreach activities supported by this award. As part of this project, innovative, interdisciplinary, and in-depth course work will be offered to students at different levels to learn cutting-edge biomolecular engineering technologies. Research findings will be broadly disseminated through high-impact journals, prestigious conferences, and the internet.

Materials are important in virtually every aspect of our life. However, currently available materials do not have capabilities to flexibly change properties as a small octopus can do during its defense against predators. Therefore, the long-term goal of this project is to explore a revolutionary concept of developing materials that can change their properties in a way mimicking the behavior of living organisms. If successful, the proposed research will open a new avenue for the human being to learn from nature and to create smart materials not existing in nature. This project also involves diverse and well-designed education and outreach activities that will make broad impacts on the education of graduate, undergraduate, and K-12 students. For instance, interdisciplinary 'learn-and-seek' teams will be established for K-12 students to learn state-of-the-art biomolecular nanotechnology and to develop 21st century skills. Research findings will not only be presented to researchers in the academia, but also to the public through the internet and social networks.

Effective start/end date9/15/122/28/13


  • National Science Foundation: $400,000.00


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