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Chemists to Develop Enzyme Mimics

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January 22, 2008 | by Megan Fellman
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Mother Nature regulates critical cellular activities in plants and animals by using enzymes, catalysts that bring about specific biochemical reactions. Looking to learn from nature, a team of Northwestern University chemists has received a $5 million grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to study and develop bioinspired supramolecular enzyme mimics for military and civilian applications.

The grant is part of the U.S. Department of Defense's Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI), a program that supports basic science and/or engineering research and is designed to address large topic areas of critical importance to national defense.

The team, led by principal investigator Chad Mirkin, George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, will focus on mimicking nature's finely controlled chemical processes to develop materials and devices, such as chemical and biological detection systems with high sensitivity and selectivity, catalytic systems for environmental remediation and materials for power generation, conversion and storage.

Other members of the team are Joseph Hupp, Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry; SonBinh Nguyen, associate professor of chemistry; Mark Ratner, Lawrence B. Dumas Distinguished University Professor; Karl Scheidt, assistant professor of chemistry; and Fraser Stoddart, Board of Trustees Professor of Chemistry.

The team's collective expertise includes supramolecular chemistry, organic and inorganic synthesis, materials, analytical chemistry and modeling capabilities -- all important to developing new supramolecular structures exhibiting desired properties and complex functions. In earlier efforts, the researchers have developed diverse strategies for creating bioinspired supramolecular structures. They now will use this "molecular tool kit" to prepare modular chemical components that can be assembled into targeted supramolecular structures.

To ensure the smooth transfer of information and technology, the Northwestern scientists will collaborate with researchers from the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Army Research Laboratory and the Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command who will make visits to Northwestern.

The grant also allows Northwestern graduate students to participate in research at the military laboratories to better understand how the MURI program's advances relate to and impact military needs.

Topics: Research, University