Peter Olmsted, Director
Olmsted's current research is mainly theory and computer simulation, and includes rheology, dynamics and instabilities in soft matter, polymers, lipid membranes, and proteins. Common threads in his work are phase transitions, non-equilbrium phenomena, and fluctuations. He works closely with experimentalists, and often on industrially-motivated problems.
In the Blairlab we are investigating the structure and mechanical properties of soft and biological materials. These materials are often found in disordered and geometrically frustrated configurations that are far from thermal equilibrium. We are particularly interested in how these materials respond to bulk and localized stresses and strains. Using advanced microscopy techniques, such as laser scanning confocal microscopy, coupled with simultaneous rheological measurements, we investigate the interplay between the structure and the dynamics of these materials as they are driven in a shear flow. Insights gained from our experiments will provide insights in many different practical and fundamental materials.
See the Blair Lab Youtube site for some fun videos!
Emanuela Del Gado
Emanuela Del Gado is a theoretical physicist working on engineering motivated problems. She uses statistical mechanics and computational physics to investigate materials with structural and dynamical complexity, from model amorphous solids, gels and glasses, to new green formulations of cement.
Prof. Del Gado received her undergraduate degree (Laurea in Physics, cum laude) at the University of Naples "Federico II" in Italy, where she also obta ined a PhD in Physics in 2001. She has been a Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Montpellier II in France and a post-doctoral researcher at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, and hold visiting positions at ESPCI (France) and MIT. Before joining Georgetown University, Emanuela was the Swiss National Science Foundation professor in the Department of Civil Environmental and Geomatic Engineering at ETH Zurich.
The Egolf group performs computational and theoretical research focused on the dynamical and statistical properties of systems maintained far-from-equilibrium. Of particular interest are granular systems, excitable media such as cardiac and neural tissue, fluid systems, and biopolymer networks. The dynamics of these systems often appear hopelessly complicated to the eye, but, using techniques from nonlinear dynamics and statistical mechanics, we are able to untangle the dynamics and reveal underlying mechanisms that may eventually lead to predictive theories.
The Gavvalappali group's research program focuses on the rational design and development of functional organic polymers and nanostructures. The group's core strength is design, development, synthesis, and structural characterization of smart functional polymers and self-assembly of organic molecules and nanostructures. Students are trained at the interfaces of organic chemistry, polymer chemistry and nanoscience, and gain expertise in the design and synthesis of small molecules, polymers and nano/colloidal particles.
The Hahm group develops block copolymer-assisted protein arrays, featuring high protein density and functionality, using various self-assembled nanodomains in ultrathin diblock copolymer thin films for spatially arranging precisely known numbers of protein molecules into 1D or 2D arrays. They study key interaction parameters governing the adsorption of proteins to chemically homogeneous and/or heterogeneous nanosurfaces and predict and control the bottom-up assembly of proteins and other biomolecules on polymeric surfaces.
The Kertesz group is interested in computational modeling of unusual intermolecular interactions. These studies involve for example secondary bonds as utilized in the design of molecular actuators, and pancake bonds as applied to new organic materials for electronic transport. Work on structures of organic materials helps understand preferred intermolecular packing arrangements at the atomic level that affect properties at larger length scales. An additional project helps elucidate intermolecular interactions that involve the encapsulation of one molecule by another.
Steven J. Metallo
Natively unstructured or intrinsically disordered (ID) proteins are common in eukaryotes. Proteins with ID regions are often associated with regulatory and signaling pathways in higher organisms and have been implicated in many diseases. These proteins do not have stable secondary or tertiary structure but neither do they exist as simple random-coil polymers. They sample a certain ensemble of conformations, rapidly converting between conformations. We have demonstrated multiple examples of how small molecules can bind with specificity to their counter-intuitive, unstructured targets. We are working to understand more generally the energetics of these interactions and the role that peptide dynamics plays in determining binding site selection and specificity in the realm of unstructured proteins.
Ian Morrison, Director of Corporate Programs
I(SM)2 serves to catalyze regional and national collaborations and develop and disseminate tools and principles of soft matter synthesis, protocols for processing, and techniques metrology. I(SM)2 successfully promotes interaction among soft matter researchers from academic, industrial and national laboratories in the Mid-Atlantic region. We offer our Corporate Partners training and custom applications development with modern synthetic and experimental techniques available, in our state-of-the-art the shared equipment facility. We also deliver lectures and/or short courses on the physics/materials science of soft matter intended for the industrial scientist, at I(SM)2 or at the corporate site.
Ian has over 35 years of industrial R&D experience, from research scientist to Corporate Fellow; from large corporations, Xerox, to start-ups, E Ink. He has more than 50 US patents, published two textbooks, and taught short courses for 25 years intended for industrial R&D.
Jeffrey Toretsky, M.D. is a pediatric oncologist who investigates the mechanisms of cancer while identifying novel therapeutic targets. The Toretsky laboratory focused on developing a therapeutic molecule for Ewing sarcoma, since these tumors contain a unique target, EWS-FLI1, which is not found in non-tumor cells. The first small molecule to directly target EWS-FLI1, YK-4-279, is a useful laboratory probe and an analog is advancing to clinical trials. In a more granular exploration of the fusion protein EWS-FLI1 and the action of YK-4-279, Dr. Toretsky found himself in the world of intrinsically disordered proteins. He identified EWS-FLI1 as a major regulator of alternative mRNA splicing and hypothesizes that splicing occurs in a phase separated nuclear body called the nuclear speckle. He leads a team that is now undertaking projects elucidating oncogenic mechanisms occurring through phase separation of nuclear bodies, including: alternative splicing and chromatin access by transcription factors. Active collaborations in the I(SM)2 include professors Blair, Metallo, Olmsted, and Del Gado.
Researchers in Urbach Lab are investigating complex dynamics in a variety of systems, ranging from complex suspensions to biopolymer networks to migrating neurons. Using the techniques of statistical physics and nonlinear dynamics, together with advanced imaging techniques, image processing, and computer simulations, they are trying to develop quantitative, testable descriptions of multifaceted, interacting, ever changing systems that might at first glance seem like a complicated mess.
Edward Van Keuren
Work in the Van Keuren lab is focused on the study of the nucleation and growth of nanoparticles in solution. They use precipitation methods to induce a high level of supersaturation in a solution and observe the formation of nanoparticles using a number of methods, including dynamic light scattering, absorption, fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy and electron microscopy. These observations are used to develop and refine models of molecular aggregation/self-assembly.
Richard G. Weiss
The Weiss group studies mechanistic photochemistry and photophysics, mechanisms of reactions, and nuclear magnetic resonance in aligning media, gels, ionic liquids, polymers, and liquid crystals. The photochemical and photophysical studies are frequently conducted in the soft matter matrices, many of which have been developed within the Weiss lab. In addition, some of the materials are being examined as reversible adhesives, as food additives, for art conservation, and as dispersants and coagulants to contain oil spills.
Xinran Zhang, Assistant Director
Responsible for the administration and management of the core instrumentation facility.