[Under construction]2017 AFOSR MURIPO: Dr. Sofi Bin-Salamon, Natural Materials, Systems, and ExtremophilesPI: Nathan Gianneschi, UC San DiegoMURI Website
Research problem and technical approach: The objective of this program is to develop a rigorous understanding of the fundamental properties of the family of natural pigments known as melanins, and to harness this versatile, prolific but enigmatic organic polymer for the development of novel, advanced, multifunctional materials. The effort spans elucidation of biosynthesis pathways, chemistry and morphology, and mimicry through engineering and materials science, using atomic to supra-molecular modeling as guidance. This will lead to the establishment of new methods of assembly to create functional arrays and structures that can be integrated into materials, providing them with unprecedented new properties (e.g. optical, infrared, magnetic, biochemical). A key outcome of this MURI will be a portfolio of melaninbased biochemical syntheses and organization pathways allowing their use in both nanoscaled objects and macroscale materials for multi-functional, smart and dynamic applications. To achieve these outcomes our team will take an innovative, multidisciplinary approach coupling exploration, chemical biology, molecular engineering, materials design, computer modeling, and will deploy multiscale characterization techniques allowing high resolution analysis from the molecule to the material, and its acquired properties.
Impact and long-term relevance to DOD/Air Force: We propose a basic science initiative, with a focus on the fundamental properties of melanin as an enigmatic and ubiquitous natural polymeric material that has so far been underutilized in materials science and technological applications in general. Knowledge in this field must be pursued because melanin has a unique blend of properties, including strong UV and gamma radiation absorbance, high refractive index, material toughness, conductivity, magnetism and strong metal-binding capacity. In the long term, we envision the use of melanin, and melanin-based synthetic materials and composites such as collagen in a range of applications. These include their performance as dynamic structural color sensors (adaptive camouflage systems or, detection systems), as protective coatings (UV and gamma resistant materials), in heat dissipation, and in the remediation of toxins (heavy metals and organic toxins/agents). Each of these future technological applications are reflective of how natural systems deploy melanin. However, without even a superficial knowledge of how melanin is biosynthesized and organized, nor how its structure results in specific functions, no such materials are, or will be, accessible. Hence, we begin with a basic but critical investigation of melanin and melanin-inspired materials.