Associate Professor, Chemical Engineering & Materials Science
The Henry Samueli School of Engineering
Associate Professor, Chemistry
School of Physical Sciences
Associate Professor, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
School of Biological Sciences
Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2008, Chemistry
B.S., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003, Materials Science and Engineering
University of California, Irvine
916 Engineering Tower
Mail Code: 2575
Irvine, CA 92697
Biological and bioinspired materials; chemical and biophysical regulation of bacterial biofilms; supramolecular protein assembly
Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Award, 2014
3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award, 2013
Samueli Faculty Fellow, 2012
ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry Young Investigator Award, 2009
NSF IGERT Fellow in Nanoscale Science and Engineering, 2004-2007
Biological organisms display many of the qualities desirable in advanced functional materials: self-organization, self-repair, “smart” response to environmental stimuli, and complex, emergent functions. Bacteria are nature’s pioneers, able to adapt to nearly every inhabitable niche on earth, and in doing so they provide blueprints for biologically-inspired materials design.
1. Design Principles for Engineering Bacterial Biofilms
In natural and anthropogenic environments, bacteria form interface-associated communities called biofilms. Biofilms are sources of persistent infection in medical settings, and cause corrosion damage or flow blockage in a number of industrial environments. But they are also useful for bioprocessing, environmental remediation, and renewable energy technologies. The ability to control their behavior, therefore, is critical for a range of applications, such as treating or preventing medical infections, removing toxins from groundwater, and producing biofuels from renewable energy sources. Biofilms are dynamic, stimuli-responsive, living materials, yet the field lacks an engineering framework to creating biofilms with controlled function. Research in my lab has focused on uncovering and defining new mechanisms of biofilm regulation and developing design principles for biofilms with targeted function. Specifically, we study (1) cell-cell chemical signaling to develop strategies for controlling bacterial community behaviors, and (2) we explore the role of microbe-material interfaces in controlling biofilms properties, such as metabolic activity and antibiotic susceptibility.
2. Natural and Synthetic Bioelectronic Materials
Other bacterial systems provide inspiration for new biomaterials design. In anoxic soils and sediment, bacteria evolved the ability to respire anaerobically using extracellular electron acceptors. Some bacteria, such as Geobacter sulfurreducens, a common sediment microbe, secrete electronically conductive protein nanofibers to access the oxidative potential of solid-state minerals. Aside from short-range electron transfer in metalloproteins, however, little is understood about how biogenic materials – primarily protein supramolecular structures – can support long-range electronic charge transport over micron distances. Inspired by these biological materials, we study mechanisms of electron transport in biomolecular conductors, design conductive, self-assembling peptide nanofibers, and develop biochemically-programmed and reconfigurable conductive gels. These materials serve as an experimental platform to understand long-range charge transport in biological materials and as promising technological platforms for electronic sensing and actuation at enzymatic and cellular interfaces.