Biomimetic Membranes, Membrane Protein Expression
Nature has excellent designs that could inspire engineering materials for the betterment of humanity. We work on membranes inspired by the cell membrane for separations and energy applications. Cell membranes have proteins spanning the membrane, known as transmembrane proteins or just membrane proteins, that provide efficient and selective transport of water, nutrients, and other important molecules. Cell membranes also act as a battery and solar energy harvesters and these are also enabled by the presence of transmembrane proteins.
Undergraduate projects will focus on developing high-density membrane proteins arrays utilizing the water channel membrane proteins, Aquaporins and on engineering devices based on the solar energy harvesting complex—Photosystem I. These proteins will be produced in bacterial (E. coli) and yeast strains, respectively, and then self-assembled in to lipid or polymer-based membranes at high concentrations to form flat form factor structures at high densities. These systems will then be supported on microporous supports or wired onto solar cell testing setups to determine efficiency.
Undergraduate students will conduct experimental studies on protein expression and purification and work on strategies to form protein packed block copolymer aggregates. They will characterize the size and shape of these aggregates using electron microscopy. They will also be involved in performing testing of these materials on supports to determine device efficiency. We will design the program for each student so that they get mentorship and close guidance by Dr. Kumar in the initial phases of research. Once students are independent Dr. Kumar will work with the student to define an independent project, which could possibly lead to a peer reviewed publication. Our group believes that independent work is the only way for new researchers to appreciate the value and complexity of research and contribute in a positive way.