Cephalopod biochemistry.  Cephalopods are arguably one of the most photonically sophisticated marine animals, as they can rapidly adapt their color and texture to match their surroundings within a fraction of a second. We study how small molecules and proteins aid in this process and emphasize the role of chromatophores (pigment containing organs) in communicating color change.  Current efforts in the lab are directed towards investigating these pigments as materials for a broad range of applications. Photo credits: Top, Christopher DiBona; Bottom: Stephen Senft, Roger Hanlon, Tom Williams, Sean Dinneen

Bio-Inspired Photonic Systems. Our approach is guided by how cephalopods work and what biomolecules they use to do so effectively, where our goal is to design of photonic materials and devices that may better emulate the dynamic range of coloration exhibited by cephalopods.  We focus on applications of cephalopod pigments, which have a uniquely high refractive index of 1.92 + 0.014i. These pigments also exhibit natural electrochromic properties, where they are able to trigger color changes upon application of an applied electric field.  We are currently exploring materials, coatings, and displays that incorporate pigment composites in tailored formulations that will enhance absorbance, extraction, and emission of light for sensing applications. Photo credits:  Amrita Kumar


Protein Fibrillogenesis.  We are interested in identifying the molecular mechanisms that underlie tissue genesis, where we focus specifically on the contributions of two proteins, collagen and fibronectin, in nascent matrix formation. Using a systematic approach that employs spectrophotometry, spectroscopy, and mechanics, we study the events which precede fibrillogenesis (e.g., conformational unfolding, accelerated nucleation, and increased co-localization in situ) that can occur without the need for direct cellular control. Based on our findings, we design and iterate manufacturing tools that can be used to induce protein fibrillogenesis on the bench top. Photo credits: Jeff Paten, Cassandra Martin


Inkjet Printing Biomaterials. We incorporate inkjet printing to build custom protein based materials. As part of the materials design, our group formulates de novo inks and examines their fluid physical properties to ensure the proteins remain stable in solution prior to printing. Next, we create a unified chemical, mechanical, electrical, and biological platform to assay material performance. Based on the bulk structure and composition of the printed materials, they can be used for applications including catalysis, diagnostic assays, flexible displays, or implantable sensors.


Chemomechatronic Devices. Inspired by self-folding robots, we design and develop bio-hybrid systems comprising micro-molded proteins on inorganic substrates that can respond to different aqueous environments by undergoing geometric transformations. Specifically, we investigate how events as simple as  water diffusion initiate reversible shape changes. When modified to include more complex geometries, these controllable shape changes can also be used to selectively trigger multiple folding events, illustrating a platform for chemically-initiated mechanical devices.  Photo credit: Conor Gomes