Research Philosophy & Interests
The guiding principle of my approach to research is to couple a thorough understanding of the basic science behind a process with applications that use that understanding to rationally design synthetic systems. Topically, I am interested in the interface between biology and chemistry, with a focus on the application of basic chemical principles to the interrogation of more complex biological systems. In particular, my research explores understanding the supramolecular assembly of oligonucleotide and host-guest systems in water, and then applying that understanding to control molecular assembly and folding in the development of biosensors capable of dynamically responding to specific stimuli. Due to the importance of rapid and reversible responses in living organisms, the creation of synthetic systems able to mimic that functionality is crucial for the real-time monitoring of biological processes.
In pursuit of this goal, I favor a multi-disciplinary approach. Wet organic synthetic techniques form the basis for developing subunits for molecular assemblies, developing unique fluorescent moieties, or modifying biomolecules. Methods from both surface-based materials science and aqueous organic chemistry form the basis for predicting and characterizing molecular assemblies on surfaces and in solution. Molecular biology offers a rich toolbox for the purification and subsequent modification of biomolecules, interacting with the field of synthetic nucleic acid chemistry to enable the creation of nucleic acid-based systems capable of biological interaction. Cellular biology and microscopy techniques allow the translation of systems from the benchtop to increasingly complex environments mimicking those found in vivo, through the use of cellular extracts as well as live cell imaging to test our biosensors.
I believe that undergraduate involvement in research, specifically self-directed individual projects, is crucial for the development of a full understanding of chemistry, as well as in the development of a student as a scientist. Accordingly, I favor projects that while based around a central core set of techniques allow each student to carry a project through from beginning to end. Biosensor design provides an excellent opportunity for this type of parallel project development, with a unified scaffold or sensing mechanism providing the core approach, with each student able to pick targets and design modifications to the base approach that work best for their target. The practice of learning not just techniques in lab, but how to design, research and troubleshoot a project is fundamental in helping students’ progress in their learning.