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Open SurfLab projects

Surface Coating

Surfaces exposed to the environment (e.g. the ocean) typically undergo biofouling and corrosion over time. Silicon nanofilaments have the potential to overcome these issues as well as potentially reduce friction of moving boats.

  • Can we coat a model boat to demonstrate the use of nanofilaments?
  • What is the best functionalization for a nonfouling surface?

Natural Glues

Animals like spiders and frogs can capture their prey using powerful natural glues. These glues are able to stick to both polar and non-polar surfaces, and they can be mechanically activated and deactivated (i.e. they adhere only under force).

  • What do natural glues consist of and what are their properties?
  • Studying natural glues is key to mimicking and improving of glues.

The Origin of Life

Amino acids are chiral molecules and come in both left-handed and right-handed forms. Nevertheless, virtually all living organisms on Earth are exclusively made of left-handed amino acids and nobody knows why.

  • Is asymmetric photolysis of amino acids in the pre-biotic oceans the reason for the homochirality of living organisms?
  • Does the chirality of amino acids change upon photolysis?

Bio-Mineralizing Proteins

Diatom cell walls are constructed by a unique protein (Silaffin) whereby the protein organizes silicic acid in the ocean into unique silica structures. By using derivatives of the Silaffin protein, we can create unique bio-mineral particles, which can potentially be used as capsules for drug delivery.  

  • Does the protein change structure when interacting with silicic acid to form these unique silica structures? 

Relevant paper

Particle surface spectroscopy

The spherical surfaces encountered in nanoparticles, water droplets and aerosols can give rise to unique and interesting properties compared to their flat counterparts. Our newly built sum frequency scattering (SFS) spectrometer extends our SFG capabilities to directly probe the structure and folding of biomolecules at these interfaces. 

  • How do human proteins interact with nano- and microplastics arising from the increasing amount of plastic waste in the environment?
  • What are the molecular level interactions and reactions occurring at important aerosol interfaces in the atmosphere?
  • Does surface curvature of nanoparticles affect the structure and orientation of proteins at interfaces?

Two dimensional surface spectroscopy

Sum frequency generation spectroscopy can probe molecules at interfaces using femtosecond laser pulses. We are now building a two dimensional SFG experiment which can probe energy transfer and coupling between molecular groups at interfaces.

  • Build a 2D SFG setup using brand-new, cutting-edge laser systems and optics.

Ice Nucleating Proteins

Bacteria can stimulate the growth of ice and snow using ice nucleating proteins (INPs). They use them to attack plants with frost damage and, when air-borne, they drive cloud seeding and snow precipitation. 

  • What is the structural basis for ice nucleation by proteins?
  • How do INPs order themselves and H2O molecules to form ice?
  • Can we use INPs to make artificial snow?

Two dimensional vibrational spectroscopy

Two-dimensional infrared spectroscopy (2D IR) is a nonlinear optical technique that requires ultrafast laser pulses. We are using 2D IR to study vibrational couplings within proteins to deduct their structure and orientation.

  • What is the secondary structure of a protein in solution and how does it change in different conditions? To answer this, we measure 2D IR spectra with a commercial cutting-edge 2D IR spectrometer. 
  • Which functional groups are coupled within a large molecule? To do this, we build an extension to our 2D IR setup to cover a broad spectral range and observe couplings.

Theory and Spectral Calculations

Develop computational tools to resolve protein structures from vibrational spectra. We use both SFG and 2DIR spectroscopies probe molecular vibrations in protein backbone. Resolving molecular structure from experimental spectra requires computational modelling. We are exploring simulations in both frequency and time domain and developing our own Vibrational Spectroscopy Calculations (Visca) Software.

  • What type of computations is suited for calculating vibrational spectra of proteins?
  • What protein structure results in a simulated spectrum that compares well to the experimentally recorded spectrum?