- Advisor: Matthew Helgeson
- Department: Chemical Engineering
- Campus: UCSB
- BioPACIFIC MIP Research: SET 3 - Functional Biomimics
What is your research focus?
Protein-based materials have emerged as sustainable replacements in conventional polymeric formulations due to their sequence modularity, stimuli responsiveness, and diverse chemical functionality. Recent efforts have sought to understand intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) that interact via colloidal interactions as a new class of important biomaterials. The reflectin protein is an exceptional example for its unique ability to modulate the color-changing camouflage of cephalopods based on its aggregation and osmotic response. This makes reflectin an ideal system to learn from and re-engineer a broader class of stimuli-responsive biomolecular materials. We seek a fundamental understanding of relationships between primary sequence, colloidal interactions and assembly, and macroscopic properties of IDPs, employing reflectin as a model system for mechanistic investigation and engineering of IDP assembly. Our proposed workflow involves integration of high-throughput multi-scale simulations and experiments available within BioPACIFIC MIP to establish an efficient, reliable, and systematic platform for investigating sequence-defined materials. Atomistic simulations will combine with small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) to map protein sequence to coarse-grained colloidal interaction potentials between protein monomers. Coarse-grained molecular simulations and high-throughput microscopy will construct detailed protein phase diagrams. Finally, high-throughput micro-rheology measurements and field theory simulations will evaluate structure-property relationships. Initial studies are aimed at fully understanding the mechanism(s) that control native reflectin aggregation, with longer-range studies aimed at understanding how engineering of protein sequence can tailor this behavior for targeted bio-synthetic hybrid applications. More broadly, the knowledge and workflow developed here can be leveraged as a case study for engineering desired properties in other protein-based materials and formulations.
What excites you about NSF BioPACIFIC MIP?
The BioPACIFIC MIP Fellows and Affiliates program is an excellent fit for my research. My work seeks to forge new tools and engineering understanding for bio-inspired and sequence-defined materials, in a manner that critically leverages combined experimental and computational approaches developed within the MIP. The accessibility of high-throughput SAXS and microscopy instrumentation as well as BioPACIFIC MIP-centric computational workflows involving atomistic, coarse-grained, and field theoretic methods, will be integral to enabling my work that bridges the microscopic and macroscopic scales to enable new discoveries in this area. Additionally, the interdisciplinary training of the BioPACIFIC MIP Fellows and Affiliates program provides not only methods and techniques to facilitate my research, but also important connections between academia and industry. In particular, the program provides the opportunity to immerse me in a research environment with regular SETs meetings with other members that will offer significant opportunities to broaden my research ideas and opportunities to apply my expertise to other fields. This kind of training involving interdisciplinary collaboration as well as the state-of-the-art high-throughput research tools is ideal for my career preparation for a future faculty position in chemical engineering.