Waltham, MABrandeis University has won a highly competitive $7.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation to establish a Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC). The Center will study the effects of imposing constraints on materials, such as DNA confined in cells and the self-assembly of large arrays of rod-like virus particles, as a guide to engineering semiconductor nano-particles into shapes and forms suitable for applications such as biosensors and solar cells.
"Brandeis has been at the forefront of recent advances in materials science and biology, both in studying the properties of materials occurring in biological systems, and in understanding the role of material properties in the structure and function of cells and cellular components," said principal investigator Robert Meyer, a pioneer in the physics of liquid crystals.
The collaborative, interdisciplinary center will to try to produce a new category of materials known as "active matter." Distinct from normal inert materials such as plastics and steel, active matter can move on its own and exhibits properties previously only observed in living materials, such as muscle and cells.
"In general, we want to understand how biological gadgets are built out of materials, carefully structured and constrained, and from this to learn how to engineer functional bio-mimetic nano-systems for important applications," said Meyer.
The Brandeis center will involve physicists, biochemists, chemists, and biologists in a two-pronged approach to research. In a bottom-up approach, the researchers will explore how the addition of typical biological constraints, such as crowding and confinement, affects materials. For instance, DNA is a long polymer chain, confined to a small volume within a cell. How does this affect the dynamics of this molecule, for instance in division of an e.coli bacterium into two daughter cells? Likewise, the scientists want to unders
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