MESONET: Exploiting in situ protein unfolding to understand and control mesoscopic network formation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


A major challenge in soft matter and biological physics is to construct a theory that connects the mechanical properties of an individual biopolymer and the collective response of a network of such biopolymers. While huge advancements have been made in the characterisation of biopolymers and their networks at the nanoscale and macroscale, the physics which describes the translation of mechanical properties across scales remains elusive. The key to unlocking this complexity is the use of Nature's bionanomachines-proteins as model systems, which possess evolutionary evolved stability and function, and which can be exploited to achieve in situ control of mesoscale network formation. My vision is to uncover the rich complexity of mesoscale protein network formation. I will achieve this through the development of a powerful suite of experimental and modelling tools which provide unprecedented access to force propagation and mesoscale network formation. A key strength of my approach is that the role of nanoscale changes and modifications in network architecture can be decoupled, so that they can be individually controlled to influence the network properties. I will develop rapid frame rate acquisition of in situ network formation to reveal how nanoscale mechanics and relaxation regulates mesoscale network formation. I will design and engineer mechanophores to measure force propagation and network relaxation at multiple length-and time-scales. I will exploit controlled mechanical deformation within the heterogeneous protein networks to yield novel technological advancements in designer soft matter for controlled small molecule diffusion and triggered release. This frontier science will deliver novel experimental and modelling tools for the soft matter community, uncover the fundamental physics which describes the translation of mechanics across scales and provide a paradigm shift in the design of soft matter materials for future applications.


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