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Physics Colloquium: Rein V. Ulijn, "Guiding principles for peptide-based, life-like nanotechnology "

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Physics Colloquium: Rein V. Ulijn, "Guiding principles for peptide-based, life-like nanotechnology "
When Apr 18, 2018
from 04:00 PM to 05:00 PM
Where MR418N
Contact Name
Contact Phone 212-650-5580
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"Guiding principles for peptide-based, life-like nanotechnology "

Rein V. Ulijn

Initiative Director and Einstein Professor
Nanoscience Initiative; Hunter College Department of Chemistry
Advanced Science Research Center

Life’s diverse molecular functions are largely based on only a small number of highly conserved building blocks- the twenty canonical amino acids. These building blocks are chemically simple, but when they are organized in three-dimensional structures of tremendous complexity, new properties emerge, giving rise to the extraordinary machinery of life.  So, if just twenty simple building blocks- when appropriately assembled - give rise to the complexity and functionality that can sustain life- then this is clearly a very versatile construction set.

Our overall goal is conceptually simple: to figure out how to make nanoscale systems and materials from biology’s building blocks, and to apply these materials to diverse problems, that require them to be interfaced, ideally seamlessly, with living systems, or the natural environment.

Different from other research groups, we have an unbiased approach, that is not guided by copying biological systems, and we keep these systems as simple as possible, which lowers barriers to application. The talk will focus on our latest results in three areas: (i) directed discovery of peptide nanostructures with new functions, by searching the sequence space (1,2); (ii) application of peptide nanostructures as functional materials (including customizable melanin pigments (3) and cell culture matrices (4)). (iii)  actively assembling systems, that continuously turn over chemical fuels, enabling dynamic changes in structure and function (5).

[1]. C.G. Pappas, et al., Dynamic Peptide Libraries for the Discovery of Supramolecular Nanomaterials, 2016 Nature Nanotechnol., 11 , 960.
[2]. P.W.J.M. Frederix, et al. Exploring the Sequence Space for (Tri-)peptide Self-Assembly to Design and Discover New Hydrogels, 2015 Nature Chem., 7, 30-37.
[3]. A. Lampel, et al., Polymeric Peptide Pigments with Sequence-encoded Properties, 2017Science, 356, 1064.
[4].  E.V. Alakpa, et al. Tunable Supramolecular Hydrogels for Selection of Lineage-Guiding Metabolites in Stem Cell Cultures, 2016 Chem, 1, 298.
[5]. M. Kumar, et al., Amino Acid-Encoded Biocatalytic Self-Assembly Enables the Formation of Transient Conducting Nanostructures, 2018 Nature Chem. accepted.

An update on the ASRC Nanoscience Initiative will be presented.

Rein Ulijn, PhD, joined CUNY and the Advanced Science Research Center from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, where he ran an acclaimed nanochemistry lab and served as one of the university’s vice deans for research.

Ulijn has been one of Europe’s rising young research stars, a scientist with a reputation for inventiveness that will fit well with CUNY’s drive to become a more entrepreneurial university. The holder of seven patents, Ulijn heads a research group that develops biomaterials and nanomaterials with unique properties, offering the promise of applications in areas ranging from biomedicine to nanotechnology.

Among Ulijn’s recent work is the development and commercialization of gel technologies. He is a founding director and chief scientific officer of a university spinoff company called Biogelx. Since 2004 he has been principal investigator of research projects that have generated more than $11 million in grants from private and public sources, including the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Industry.

Ulijn has been the recipient of some of Britain’s most prestigious scientific honors, including the Norman Heatley Medal, Royal Society Merit Award, Leverhulme Trust Leadership Award and the Macrogroup Young Investigator Medal. In 2014 he was admitted as a fellow to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s National Academy of Science. He is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed articles and has given more than 100 invited and keynote lectures at international conferences.

Born in the Netherlands, Ulijn earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the University of Strathclyde, received postdoctoral training at the University of Edinburgh and was a faculty researcher at the University of Manchester. In 2008 he returned to Strathclyde, appointed full professor at age 34 and later vice dean for research and has continued to hold a professorship after his move. At CUNY, in addition to his role as director of the ASRC Nanoscience Initiative, Ulijn is Einstein Professor of Chemistry at Hunter College.

The Ulijn group are interested in the development of materials and systems that mimic biology’s adaptive properties but are much simpler. These materials (including gels, emulsions, structured surfaces and nanotubes) have potential applications in health care, cosmetics, lifestyle products, food science. These applications are sought in active collaboration with researchers and companies across the globe. The approach is cross-disciplinary and covers the entire range from fundamental understanding to eventual applications and societal benefit.