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Mollecular engineering is the field where engineering solutions are devised ad hoc using materials from their atoms and molecules rather than from their macroscopic properties. The final properties of a macroscopic unit are thus determined by direct modification of the molecular structure, effectively “bottom-up” designing the material characteristics.
In our group, we combine chemistry with physics using biology as inspiration to design hierarchical materials via self-assembly processes. We synthesise copolymers via controlled polymerisation methods tuning each segment mechanical, optical, solubility, degradation properties.
We thus study the copolymer self-assembly in solution (mostly water). We are particularly interested on how cooperative processes emerging from the interaction between the blocks and the solvent drive the formation of different architectures.
"Seeing is believing" is one the most essential axiom in science. Among the different tools to our disposal, microscopes whether optical or electron are the most used. We look at our materials with unprecedented details, how they interact with living cells and tissues and even use them to look at cells with new probing abilities. Our frontier in microscopy, whether optical or electron, is time. We're advancing new methods for liquid-phase transmission electron microscopy. We set up one of the first facilities dedicated to video-rate imaging of liquid samples with a sub-nanometer resolution. We look at both liquid biological and synthetic matter gathering its four-dimensional evolution. At the same time, we're adapting established optical techniques for fluorescence imaging to capture nanoseconds dynamics. Finally, in collaboration with synthetic inorganic chemists, we are developing new molecular probes that allow multimodal microscopy techniques combining fluorescence with heavy-metal contrast.
Physical Biology centres on the development and adaptation of physical methods and concepts for elucidating the complexity and dynamics of biological structures. We apply such an approach to understanding transport phenomena in living systems. We are particularly interested in the mesoscopic nature of transport how the entire organism physiology is the result of a hierarchy of molecular recognition events, macromolecular phoresis, and cellular and tissual taxis. From molecules to nanoscale assemblies to cells, to tissue to the whole organism we thus study the following processes: multivalent and multiplexed interactions; protein/nanomaterial interaction; diffuso- and osmo- phoresis; endocytosis, trafficking and membrane-bound interactions; and tissue percolation and size-exclusion effects.
Accessing our body is not a trivial task, and in order to reach the desired part, the carrier has to "navigate the body", and we call this Somanautics (from Greek: Sôma: Body -and Nautikos -navigation). The biological environment where the somanaut has to go through is the result of a hierarchical and intricate organisation of molecules, into macromolecules into supramolecular structures, into living cells, into tissues, into organs. Such complexity requires a systematic approach, and we are engaging this both at each level as well as holistically to understand the different aspects required for efficient navigation. At the molecular level, we aim to design systems that have limited interaction with soluble proteins so to prevent unspecific protein fouling and opsonisation. At the cellular level, we study the interaction between synthetic materials and cells (see endocytosis). At the tissue level, we have discovered that efficient transport is related to the carrier mechanical properties and its ability to "squeeze" through the narrow paracellular space combining translocation with size-exclusion percolation. At the physiological level, we are studying how synthetic carrier interacts with the immune system, move in and out of the vasculature, access specific organs. To this respect, we are now investigating new ways to control cellular selectivity and to follow endogenous chemical signalling using chemotaxis.
MASTER, VISITING, AND UG STUDENTS
Zijian Huang UCL MRes in Materials and Modelling (London)
Junyang Chen Visiting from Anhui University (London)
Paula Magrinyà Aquiló BIST/UPF MRes in Multidisciplinary Research in Experimental Sciences (Barcelona)
Pau Carabí Gassol UAB Nanoscience and Nanotechnology BSci (Barcelona)
Mohamed Lester UCL Mathematics, Computers and Medicine iBSc (London)
You can check our publications in google scholar