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Chunhai Fan



Department of Chemistry, College of Science, Building (5)


Telephone: 4675999

Project Title

Development of nanoscale biosensors by exploiting physical properties of surface-bound biomolecules on graphene

Project Summary

In lock step with the rapidly advancing pace of bioengineering, interest in the technological applications of surface-attached or nanomaterial-modified biomolecules is rapidly increasing. For example, biosensors based on surface-bound DNAs and DNA-nanocrystal hybrids have attracted intense interest due to their wide applications such as pathogen detection, environmental monitoring and civil defense. Despite the significant interest in surface-attached or nanomaterial-modified biomolecules, our understanding of the physical properties of biomolecules under these conditions remains rather limited. That is, while it is now easy to site-specifically attach biomolecules to bulk and nanometer-scale, and while they often remain functional under these conditions, key questions about how their physics changes upon surface attachment remain unanswered. How does attachment, for example, affect the free energy of a folded biopolymer?  How does it affect the dynamics and structure of an unfolded biopolymer?  These issues have not been adequately addressed by the experimental community even for inert surfaces, much less the often highly charged surfaces employed in many emerging biotechnologies.  Motivated by the growing importance of technologies, such as those described above, that are based on the physical properties of surface-bound biomolecules we propose here a research program aimed at understanding how the physical properties of biomolecules in solution change when they are constrained on nanometer-scale graphene surfaces, in the belief that this will aid in the design and optimization of a wide range of biomolecule-based technologies. The intellectual merit in the proposed research program is embodied in our goal of developing simple, quantitative models describing how attachment alters the folding free energy, dynamics and unfolded state conformational ensembles of biomolecules site-specifically attached to the surface of graphene oxide. The broader impact of the proposed research plan will be an improved ability to design and optimize a wide range of current and future technologies reliant on surface-bound biomolecules on graphene oxide.