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Rachel Letteri - Engineering new peptide building blocks for adaptive biomaterials

Science & Engineering
Chemical Engineering
Supervising Faculty Member: 
Rachel Letteri
Research Focus: 

The Letteri group will engineer new peptide building blocks for polymer-based biomaterials to access a wide range of thermomechanical properties and promote productive interactions with biological systems. We aim to establish design rules that connect the composition and structure of the peptide building blocks within polymer materials to the thermal, mechanical, and biological properties of the resulting polymer-peptide composites, and thereby produce new engineering strategies and materials well suited to advance critical therapeutic and diagnostic technologies. Current directions include tissue engineering and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis therapeutics, and we are eager to develop these materials for use by the broader scientific, engineering, and medical communities.

Position Description: 

A student will synthesize peptides and polymers, and confirm the structure and composition of these materials using a range of chromatographic and spectroscopic techniques. The student will determine binding strengths of interacting peptides, and then blend solutions of polymer-peptide constructs to prepare dynamic hydrogel biomaterials. Mechanical characterization of the hydrogels will enable the student to make connections between polymer and peptide structure, non-covalent peptide linker strength, and biomaterial properties, such as stiffness, toughness, and time-dependent mechanical properties. In addition to a variety of chemistry, chromatography and spectroscopy techniques, a student will learn experimental design, record keeping, and analysis. A student will be expected to read literature related to their work, participate actively in group meetings and other research discussions, which will provide opportunities to learn science communication through presentations, and prepare short monthly reports to develop scientific writing skills while assisting in data analysis and experimental planning. 

Required Skills: 

As this work will involve synthetic chemistry, binding studies, and preparing and characterizing hydrogels, General Chemistry (or AP Chemistry) is recommended. A student will perform calculations to determine amounts of reagents needed for reactions and solutions, therefore a working knowledge of mass and molar calculations and Microsoft Excel is helpful, but not required. More importantly, please come prepared to work hard, ask questions, learn new things, have fun, help others, and be a good team player and lab citizen.

Computer software: 
What will you learn: 

- Gain knowledge related to polymer and peptide synthesis and characterization

- Design and conduct experiments to determine structure-property relationships, and thereby establish design rules for new materials

- Communicate your work to a variety of audiences

Engineering new peptide building blocks for adaptive biomaterials