The superior properties of natural materials (e.g. strong fibers in spider silk and underwater adhesives by mussels) and their biocompatibility can serve as inspirational sources to develop next-generation, green, functional materials for human health care, the environment and national defense. Their unique properties are predominantly derived from biopolymer components, in particular proteins, and their assembled structures in materials. To mimic the properties of natural materials, in contrast to constructing the entire complex natural system, well-characterized functional proteins can be engineered as building blocks for tailor-made protein-based polymers. By rational molecular design, the protein polymers can self-associate into supramolecular block copolymers with diverse architectures, which can then self-assemble into nanostructured materials with comparable properties as natural systems. Based on this biosynthetic material design concept, the first artificially engineered protein polymer hydrogel that mimics the selective filtering function of the nuclear membrane will be discussed. For advanced separation applications, a decontamination method to selectively sequester biological warfare agents into the hydrogel will be presented. Additional topics including the natural mechanical proteins responsible for muscle toughness and red blood cell reversible deformability as well as proper crosslinking strategies will be introduced. This molecular knowledge will guide the design of protein polymers that can self-assemble into mechanically responsive soft materials for biomedical and protection applications.
Minkyu Kim is a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working in the Bioinspired and Biofunctional Polymers Group led by Prof. Bradley Olsen. He received his B.S. (2004) in Mechanical Engineering at Kyung Hee University (Korea) and M.S. (2006) in Biomedical Engineering and Ph.D. (2011) in Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science at Duke University. Dr. Kim has diverse research experiences in the areas of biopolymer design and synthesis, single-molecule biophysics, polymer physics, molecular self-assembly, biomolecular engineering and functional soft materials. He has been recognized with the Graduate Study Abroad Fellowship from the Korea Science and Engineering Foundation (2004-2006), the Medtronic pre-doctoral fellowship (2009), and the Student Research Achievement Award from the Biophysical Society (2010).