Dr K. H. Aaron Lau

Senior Lecturer

Pure and Applied Chemistry

Personal statement

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).  


Has expertise in:

    General Areas of Expertise

    • Biointerfaces, Cell-Surface and Protein-Surface Interactions
    • Nanopores: Transport/Diffusion of Macromolecules
    • Polymer Brushes and Hydrogels
    • Surface Modification
    • Protein and Enzyme Assays, Peptide Characterization

    Material Systems under Investigation

    • Peptoids: Poly(N-Substituted Glycines)
    • Nanoporous Alumina
    • Polymer Surface Grafting and Polymerisation
    • Polyphenolic/Polycatecholic Coatings

    Technical Expertise

    • Solid Phase Synthesis
    • Macromolecular Self-Assembly
    • Anodisation
    • Radical Polymerisation
    • Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR), Ellipsometry, and Related Surface Optical Measurements
    • AFM, XPS, SEM

Prizes and awards

HFSP Young Investigator Grant
Delegate to Scottish Crucible 2015
Researcher Mobility Fellowship

more prizes and awards


A sequential process for manufacturing nature-inspired anisotropic superhydrophobic structures on AISI 316L stainless steel
Cai Yukui, Xu Zongwei, Wang Hong, Lau King Hang Aaron, Ding Fei, Sun Jining, Qin Yi, Luo Xichun
Nanomanufacturing and Metrology (2019)
A hybrid laser ablation and chemical etching process for manufacturing nature-inspired anisotropic superhydrophobic structures
Cai Yukui, Luo Xichun, Xu Zongwei, Lau King Hang Aaron, Ding Fei, Qin Yi
EUSPEN's 19th International Conference & Exhibition, pp. 90-93 (2019)
Crystallization and lamellar nanosheet formation of an aromatic dipeptoid
Castelletto Valeria, Chippindale Ann M, Hamley Ian W, Barnett Sarah, Hasan Abshar, Lau King Hang Aaron
Chemical Communications Vol 55, pp. 5867-5869 (2019)
Highly active protein surfaces enabled by plant-based polyphenol coatings
Sousa Ana M L, Li Tai-De, Varghese Sabu, Halling Peter J, Lau King Hang Aaron
ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces Vol 10, pp. 39353-39362 (2018)
Atomistic study of zwitterionic peptoid antifouling brushes
Cheung David L, Lau King Hang Aaron
Langmuir Vol 35, pp. 1483-1494 (2018)
Superhydrophobic structures on 316L stainless steel surfaces machined by nanosecond pulsed laser
Cai Yukui, Chang Wenlong, Luo Xichun, Sousa Ana ML, Lau King Hang Aaron, Qin Yi
Precision Engineering Vol 52, pp. 266-275 (2018)

more publications

Professional activities

10th International Conference on Materials for Advanced Technologies
Invited speaker
257th American Chemical Society National Meeting - Orlando
257th American Chemical Society National Meeting - Orlando
257th American Chemical Society National Meeting - Orlando
Bioinspired Nanomaterials - RSC Chemical Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Interest Group ECR Meeting
ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces (Journal)
Peer reviewer

more professional activities


Synthesis, characterization, and coatings of antibacterial peptoids over metallic implants
Lau, K. H. Aaron (Principal Investigator) SAXENA, Varun (Post Grad Student)
Commonwealth Scholarship Commission Split Site PhD Scholarship
07-Jan-2019 - 06-Jan-2020
Organic Synthesis, Polymer Chemistry and Nanomaterials
Lau, K. H. Aaron (Principal Investigator) Azeem, Iqra (Post Grad Student)
Commonwealth Scholarship Commission Split Site PhD Scholarship
01-Jan-2018 - 30-Jan-2019
Doctoral Training Partnership 2018-19 University of Strathclyde | Merrilees, Martyn
Lau, K. H. Aaron (Principal Investigator) Sefcik, Jan (Co-investigator) Merrilees, Martyn (Research Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2018 - 01-Jan-2022
An advanced integrated process for the treatment of sewage plant effluent using bio-based antimicrobial metal biosorbents and photocatalytic materials
Lau, K. H. Aaron (Principal Investigator) Ivaturi, Aruna (Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2018 - 31-Jan-2020
Surface modification using novel peptoids for antimicrobial applications
Lau, K. H. Aaron (Principal Investigator) Hasan, Abshar (Post Grad Student)
Commonwealth Scholarship Commission Split Site PhD Scholarship
01-Jan-2017 - 30-Jan-2018
Bioinspired control of protein transport through polymer decorated nanopores
Lau, K. H. Aaron (Principal Investigator)
"This project will initiate a research programme in nanopore protein separation that is inspired by the nuclear pore complex (NPC).

NPCs are complex, giant assemblies constituted from more than 400 proteins that define nanoscale pores (i.e. nanopores) ~40 nm in diameter. Each NPC spans the nuclear membrane which separates the cell nucleus and the rest of the cell. NPCs are the only conduits in and out of the cell nucleus in all eukaryotic cells and they allow only a small set of specific proteins and genetic material related to the functioning of the cell nucleus to pass through. All the other thousands of species of unrelated but similar molecules in the cell are rejected.

Convenient separation of biomolecules is an enabling technology. NPC-studded nuclear membranes are effectively a highly specific and efficient molecular separation and purification membrane. They are capable of sorting through more than 1 kg of specific biomolecules in a human body per minute, far surpassing the performance of current technology. The creation of NPC-mimetic nanoporous membranes would benefit diverse biotechnology and biomedical applications, ranging from purification of protein disease markers for bedside medical diagnosis to continuous manufacturing of enzymes and protein therapeutics. Understanding the science underlying NPC function will help us achieve these applications and help us meet our 21st century challenges in healthcare and advanced manufacturing.

The immediate goal of this project is to establish the design rules for enabling the basic function of the NPC - the sorting of proteins according to size using nanopores with a virtual size cut off and which, unlike current technology, are not clogged by random interactions with proteins. The pore size of the NPC is virtual because it has a physical diameter much larger than the size of the protein. A random protein cannot however pass through because each NPC nanopore is filled with a semi-porous polymer plug with an as yet unidentified structure that specifically repels proteins, except for those proteins specific to nuclear function.

Biologists studying the NPC have proposed two leading theories to explain how the plug works: i) the virtual gate polymer brush model, and ii) the
selective phase meshwork model. This project will create artificial nanopores that are decorated with synthetic polymers as simplified models to mimic these two theoretical structures. Experiments will be conducted to verify whether either of the theories is in fact feasible.

The ultimate goal is to exploit these design rules for further development of the nanoporous membrane platform that incorporate increasingly advanced polymers for decorating the nanopores. This will create NPC-inspired nanoporous membranes with separation efficiency and selectivity that matches, and may eventually even surpass, native NPC function."
01-Jan-2017 - 30-Jan-2019

more projects


Pure and Applied Chemistry
Technology Innovation Centre

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