Computer simulations help unlock the secrets of biomineralization

Project lead:
Hendrik Heinz, Ph.D., University of Akron

Modeling Biomineralization and Peptide Binding to Inorganic Surfaces

Funding sources:
Air Force Research Laboratory/Air Force Office Of Scientific Research, ETH Zurich, University of Akron, National Science Foundation (REU)

A University of Akron researcher is investigating the complex process of biomineralization - nature's ability to form complex structures, such as mollusk shells, human bone and highly sensitive recognition systems.

Through computer modeling and simulations done at the Ohio Supercomputer Center and in close connection with experimental groups, Hendrik Heinz, Ph.D., hopes to gain a fundamental understanding of biomineralization at the nanoscale level and the design of organic molecules for specific binding to inorganic surfaces.

"This research presents interdisciplinary problems that unite basic concepts of physics, chemistry, biology, polymer science and engineering, as well as computation and statistical mechanics," said Heinz, an assistant professor of polymer engineering. "It will result in new theoretical insights, as well as new computational approaches and tools, pushing back the frontiers of basic sciences, engineering and interdisciplinary education."

What Heinz discovers could lead to multiple payoffs in the bottom-up design of important, new silica-based materials and biologically engineered metal nanostructures for chemical, industrial, biomedical and other applications. His insights could significantly advance the design of human structures, such as medical implants, fibers, sensors and the development of new biological structures, such as peptides, cells and drug-delivery vehicles for treating life-threatening diseases.

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