Lau Laboratory for Bioinspired Molecular Interfaces and Nanomaterials
My research aims to establish the design rules for creating synthetic polymers and nanostructures that mimic the structure and function of natural biomolecules. At the same time, since my biomimetic structures would be governed by the same biophysical principles acting on their natural counterparts, I aim to use these structures as physical models to test hypotheses on the functional mechanisms of the natural systems. This fundamental research into the biophysical and materials chemistryof biomimetic molecules will, in the long-term, expand the possibilities of controlling biological interactions and enable improvements in human health and our ability to fashion material functionality at will.
Proteins and their self-assembled structures, which constitute the molecular machinery performing many of life’s chemical processes, are of particular interest. To reduce the level of complexity and enable chemical routes of investigation, I develop synthetic peptidomimeticpolymers called “peptoids” which closely mimics the chemical structure and properties of peptides, the biomolecules from which proteins are formed. To mimic larger protein structures, I also employ already available synthetic nanostructures, e.g. nanoparticles and nanoporous membranes, as scaffolds on which biofunctional molecules such as peptoids and others can be attached. This research requires development of new nano-characterizationtechniques, such as the nanoporous waveguide spectroscopy that I am developing, as well as chemical methods of integrating synthetic materials with biomolecules (i.e. biofunctionalization). I am therefore also developing reactive polyphenols coatingsformed from plant tannins, that can be used to functionalize a diverse range of materials with proteins, peptoids, and other (bio)molecules.
Overall, my research is highly interdisciplinary and exemplifies the rapidly emerging fields of “bioinspired materials” and “biointerfaces”. The research brings together the experimental synthesis of biomimetic molecules and nanostructures, self-assembly and biofunctionalization, as well as biophysical characterization. This expertise may also enable nearer-term applications in biomaterials, sensing (e.g. environmental monitoring, medical diagnostics) and the processing of biomolecules (e.g. purification, biocatalysis).