Charles E. Kaufman Foundation

2013 New Initiative Grant

Christine D. Keating, Ph.D. (PI) Professor of Chemistry, Penn State University

Theresa Mayer, Ph.D. (Co-PI) Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering & Materials Science & Engineering, Penn State University

Probing the Role of Interparticle Forces in the Collective Behavior of Particle Assemblies


The properties of individual molecules within biological assemblies such as lipid membranes or protein complexes are often stimuli-responsive. For example, a conformational change may occur upon binding that consequently alters the structure of the overall assembly, effectively amplifying the response of the molecule(s) directly involved in the binding events. This type of control over the interactions between components of synthetic, inorganic assemblies would be a powerful step towards increased functionality and responsiveness in these materials, and could have far-ranging implications in nanophotonics, chemical and biological sensors, and energy. In this New Initiatives proposal, Profs. Keating and Mayer combine diverse expertise to generate systems in which a fundamental materials property, particle polarizability, is controlled in real-time by optical illumination. Complementary experimental model systems will be investigated to probe the effect of this materials property change on two important classes of interaction forces and its impact on particle organization within assemblies. We anticipate observing rich phase behaviors based on mixtures of different particle types in which particle subpopulations are selectively altered to vary their interaction potentials. Cooperative responses to material structure such as a stimulus-induced phase change are of fundamental interest and are exciting in the longer-term as reconfigurable materials.

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