Charles E. Kaufman Foundation

2014 New Initiative Grant

Alison Sweeney, Ph.D. (PI) Assistant Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Pennsylvania

Randall Kamien, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Pennsylvania

Living Photonic Devices: Self-assembly from Proteins as Patchy Colloids


Molluscan animals such as squids, octopuses and clams build an array of living optical devices of astounding photonic sophistication, such as reflective camouflage, graded index lenses, solar radiance distributors, and wavelength-specific light guides. These structures self-assemble from still-enigmatic groups of proteins called “reflectins” or “S-crystallins”. Several of our new observations about these systems show that the “patchy colloids” framework recently developed by soft matter physicists is the correct paradigm for explaining the evolutionary emergence and modern routes to self-assembly of these systems. The work proposed here, an unprecedented synthesis of evolution, biochemistry, photonics, and soft matter physics, will allow the field of self-assembly to cut to the chase, as it were, and learn evolution’s rules for building complex architectures from colloidal materials without having to find them again through a more laborious and difficult-to-direct design process.

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