COSAM News Articles 2018 November Associate Professor of Chemistry Wei Zhan Awarded $471,772 NSF Grant to Research Liposomes with Asymmetry

Associate Professor of Chemistry Wei Zhan Awarded $471,772 NSF Grant to Research Liposomes with Asymmetry

Published: 11/19/2018

By: Maria Gebhardt

Dr. Wei Zhan, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Sciences and Mathematics at Auburn University, is the recipient of a $471,772 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for Janus Liposomes: Formation, Self-Assembly and Controlled Motion.

In the Zhan Group Lab, the team researches liposomes – small spherical vesicles containing lipid bilayers formed in water. With a diameter just a fraction of a typical human hair, these little objects are often used by researchers as prototypes for biological cells; the latter are normally wrapped in a lipid bilayer studded with proteins. Liposomes of still smaller sizes are ubiquitous in our daily life – food, drugs and cosmetics— often without us realizing. All different versions of liposomes share one common feature: homogeneous surface chemistry that enables them to do only one job at a time.

This three-year grant gives Dr. Zhan the opportunity to research a new type of liposome that has two opposing halves — a higher level of complexity and functionality.

“This research basically breaks down into two parts: how to prepare Janus liposomes and how to take advantage of their broken symmetry,” said Dr. Zhan. The research, for example, will include the reactive functionalities and physical responses of the particular liposomes under different stimuli to determine their advanced functionality.

“This (research) is mostly a fundamental study and with it we hope to contribute back to the biomembrane community with some new twists of a key membrane model,” said Dr. Zhan.

Part of this grant includes an outreach component to work with young, unrepresented chemists. Dr. Zhan is seeking to build partnerships with students in Historically Black Colleges and Universities or HBCUs to give them hands-on experience broadening their application in the lab.

This grant includes funding from the Macromolecular, Supramolecular and Nanochemistry Program of the NSF Chemistry Division and research concludes in 2021.


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