Towards Tunable Fluctuations and Controlled Topography in Biomimetic Membranes

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

2:30pm - 3:45pm

330 Lavery Hall - VT Campus

Dr. Rana Ashkar
Physics Department
Virginia Tech


Lipid bilayers host a wide range of vital biological processes and are ubiquitous in a variety of research areas at the interface of biophysics, health care, and biotechnology. In order to understand the function of lipid membranes and fully utilize their potential in pharmaceutical and biotechnological applications, it is imperative to investigate the factors that control essential membrane functions, such as domain formation and protein recruitment. Among these factors, membrane fluctuations and curvature effects remain to be not well understood despite increasing evidence of their active role in cellular processes. In this talk, I will discuss our latest studies on membrane bending, thickness fluctuations, and their response to cholesterol content, domain formation, and protein binding events. I will also introduce a novel platform for the topographic control of lipid bilayers using thermoresponsive nanostructured polymer scaffolds. This system is ideal for studying curvature-mediated membrane phenomena, such as lateral membrane reorganization and switchable protein binding, and can open new avenues to enhanced cellular therapeutics and biosensing applications.


Rana Ashkar is an assistant professor in the Physics Department at Virginia Tech. Her area of expertise is experimental condensed matter physics with a focus on soft materials and biosystems for industrial and biotechnological applications. Prof. Ashkar is also an expert in x-ray and neutron scattering techniques and their use in investigating nanoscale structures and dynamics in soft matter. She received her Ph.D. from Indiana University in Bloomington, after which she held a joint postdoctoral position at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Maryland at College Park. Before joining Virginia Tech, she was a Clifford G. Shull Fellow at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.