Bio-Inspired Smart Materials and Nanotechnology
Dr Santu Bera's background of research focuses on the molecular self-assembly of bio-inspired building blocks into novel architectures with fascinating (bio-)functionalities
Self-assembly in living systems allows individual macromolecules to assemble into a wide set of supramolecular architectures. In this way, nature capitalizes on self-assembly to convert chemically simple building blocks into sophisticated materials that function cooperatively in living systems. Motivated by nature, bio-inspired nanotechnology aspires to harness natural compounds and nanostructures for various technological applications. While the initial approaches relied on mimicking natural protein sequences, later the focus shifted towards a complementary approach to use synthetic chemistry to explore the chemical space beyond that available to natural molecular building blocks.
Biomimetics provides the fascinating route to design peptide-based motifs and exemplifies how design and chemistry can be successfully employed to generate multifunctional molecules that assemble and function. In this circumstance, my main objective of research at Ashoka University is to combine principles from disciplines including biology, chemistry and engineering, in the preparation of synthetic materials with functions similar to or surpassing those of natural products. The general aims of my research are (i) to design artificial self-assembling minimal systems that mimic protein secondary structures, (ii) to understand how to program biomolecules with the necessary information for self-ordering into complex and functional architectures, (iii) to study novel (bio)functionalities in the designed molecule-based platforms.
One of the major interests of the group is developing protein-mimetic structures resembling amyloid, and collagen with efficient piezoelectric properties which is defined as the conversion of mechanical energy into electrical energy and vice versa. After the discovery of the phenomenon that electrical stimulation can modulate several tissue functions, it gains significant research interest from different communities to develop bio-piezoelectric smart materials. The inherent biocompatibility, bio-integrity and biodegradability of peptide-based piezoelectric materials offer various advantages over currently market-available lead-based non-biocompatible piezoelectric materials like PZT. Development of such materials would provide enticing opportunities for research and progress of structural peptide-based bio-piezoelectric, self-powered, implantable and bio-resorbable platforms for solutions to major healthcare issues like tissue regeneration.
(Dr. Santu Bera is a Faculty Fellow in the Department of Chemistry, Ashoka University)