Gassensmith Lab


Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 9.44.31 AMiology has done a remarkable job in the creation of diverse and unique materials from only a handful of simple building blocks. The versatile nature of these building blocks has enabled researchers to use biological materials in a diverse range of research topics. DNA, in particular, has been utilized to produce biomedical sensors, self-healing photonic wires, nanoelectronic devices and molecular machines; however, a new direction wherein significant progress is yet to be realized is in the use of proteins — specifically, the well-defined quaternary structure of viral capsids. This is a fertile topic and researchers are just beginning to take advantage of these materials. Our research focuses on three areas of research, wherein biologically inspired viral capsids are used to improve the performance and processability of new materials that otherwise would not be as easily accessible without the noncovalent forces provided by these unique scaffolds.


TMV MOFSynthesis of small, hollow and well defined structures on the order of 20-500 nm is a challenge when their application depends on ensuring both structural integrity as well as a narrow diameter profile.  Our group aims to exploit the well defined structure of hollow viral capsids as templates for these materials and explore their function within biological systems as therapeutic as well as diagnostic agents. For instance, we have shown that tobacco mosaic virus can be encapsulated inside a shell of ZIF-8, which protects the virus inside from organic solvents and high temperatures. The shell itself is highly porous, which permits chemical reactions with the amino acids on the surface of the virus even when it is encapsulated within the protective MOF shell. In principle, this allows for all the functionality of the anisotropic rod-shaped virus underneath while shielding it from, for instance, recognition by the immune system. Some publications on the subject include [1].  

Stimuli Responsive Behavior

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 9.46.43 AMManipulation of nanoscale materials depends upon being able to affect them using extant sources like magnetic fields, redox chemistry, light, local pH, or heat. We aim to create materials that respond predictably and selectively to these external forces causing a change in structure and the production of useful work. For instance, we have been integrating light-responsive behavior into viral capsids to release drugs within cells. Our interests even extend to thermal actuation of molecular single crystals and turn-on or turn-off responses for in vivo or in vitro molecular probes. Some publications on the subject include: [1], [2], [3]  


Self-Assembly of Bio-Dielecrics

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 9.46.53 AMApplication based research on the different allotropes of carbon has been staggering as these materials offer ways to shrink electronic devices, strengthen materials, and improve the properties of both semiconductors and conductors.  Carbon nanotubes (CNTs), for instance, have interesting electrochemical properties, but in their production, mixtures of metallic and semiconducting CNTs of differing charities form and economic methods of processing them have provided a barrier to commercial applications.  We aim to study non-covalent methods of modifying CNTs to meet these goals using well established principles of self-assembly to this new area of research.  

American Diversity and Global Mentorship

A vital aspect of science is communication—not just amongst fellow scientists, but to the wider world. The University of Texas at Dallas is one of the most diverse universities in the United States thanks to that the DFW metropolitan area's expanding population of first and second generation families from around the world. We are capitalizing on this diversity to promote science in our group and beyond to the world. Thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation we have been making high-quality videos in different languages to showcase common laboratory techniques. Each year, we aim to add another language to the mix and to diversity the types of instructional videos we offer. Our primary target would be young students in international universities looking for instructional videos to help them perform common laboratory techniques with the aim of possibly enticing them to come to the United States to continue their education and contribute to our growth in science and industry.