IRG 1

Rodal in lab with students


Membrane-based Materials

Senior Investigators (Brandeis)
Avi Rodal, (group co-leader), Biology
Bulbul Chakraborty, Physics
Mike Hagan, Physics
Tijana Ivanovic, Biochemistry
Ben Rogers, Physics
Bing Xu, Chemistry

Senior Investigators (elsewhere)
Hendrick Dietz, TU Munich
Anthony Dinsmore, UMass Amherst
Zvonimir Dogic, (group co-leader), UCSB
Greg Grason, UMass Amherst
Robert Pelcovits, Brown University
Thomas Powers, Brown University

Research Vision and Plan

IRG vision  
By studying nanometer-sized lipid bilayers and micron-sized colloidal monolayers, we will learn to engineer heterogeneous, shape-changing membranes as the basis for new functional materials.

Biological membranes are exceptional materials that combine seemingly divergent properties. They are mechanically tough and difficult to rupture, yet they are highly fluid and readily change shape. They are permeable to certain molecules while impermeable to others. These unique properties make membranes an indispensable structural component of all living organisms and it has been proposed that life originated from simple protocell vesicles. These attributes also make membranes attractive from a materials perspective, leading to their use in diverse applications including drug delivery and biosensors. A materials scientist and a biological cell face similar challenges when using membranes to build materials or organelles. How can laterally heterogeneous compartmentalized membranes be designed? How can 3D membrane shape be dynamically manipulated? How can transport across membranes be regulated?

To address these ambitious goals IRG1 pursues a novel, dual approach, in which we study (1) traditional lipid bilayer membranes using state-of-the-art microscopy and single-molecule techniques and (2) a colloidal membrane system that scales up the thickness of biological membranes a thousand-fold, allowing visualization of structures and dynamics that were previously undetectable.  Using these complementary systems, we will explore how embedding objects into the membrane, placing them onto a membrane or passing them through a membrane leads to emergent structure and dynamics. Starting from simple spherical colloids and nanoparticles and progressing to intricate protein assemblies, viruses or DNA origami structures, we will systematically increase the complexity of the particles used to perturb the membrane.

From these studies, we will elucidate design principles that govern these structures and processes, to enable engineering membrane-based materials and to illuminate how biological cells use membrane-based structures to achieve specific functions.

Research Highlights
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