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Biophysical Studies Using Spectroscopy and Computation

Project Full Title:

Biophysical Studies Using Femtosecond Laser Spectroscopy, Single-Molecule Spectroscopy, and Computational Modeling

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Project Description:

This interdisciplinary project will incorporate the disciplines of Chemistry and Biology (with a little Physics, too) and is within the Hope College Department of Chemistry.

In my lab we use short-pulse lasers, advanced microscopes, and computers to try to understand the details that drive the biological functions of proteins and other biological molecules. We use two types of fluorescence spectroscopy in my laboratory. The first uses short pulses of laser light (about 100 femtoseconds, where 1 femtosecond = 1 10-15 s) to observe events that happen quickly. The second uses sophisticated microscopes to observe individual molecules one at a time. Both techniques help us understand details of molecular behavior that are not possible with ordinary spectroscopy.

We also use sophisticated computational methods (and supercomputers) to model the motions of the same proteins and nucleic acids as well as the water and ions that surround them. These computer models provide tremendous detail and help to explain the experimental results. Part of my group also develops new, more accurate computer models that we and others use.

We are also studying whole organisms in an effort to understand the process of neuroregeneration, which allows some animals (such as fish) to recover from spinal cord injury. By combining the femtosecond laser with the single-molecule microscope, we can selectively damage individual neurons and then watch the surroundings neurons as they begin the neuroregeneration process. This project is being conducted in collaboration with the Chase group at Hope and with the Putzke group at Whitworth University.

Students in my laboratory have the opportunity to work with the spectroscopic, biological, and computational arms of the research, or to specialize in any one or two areas. All researchers in my laboratory will be helping to develop physical chemical methods for understanding how efficient biological function is achieved as well as how biological misfunction (i.e. disease) occurs. These methods will help our group and other scientists to better understand disease and to, hopefully, effect treatment in the future.

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