Global Health Nexus, Winter 2004

Federally Funded Nanotechnology Development Research Underway

Dr. John Evans, Associate Professor of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology and of Chemistry, is analyzing seashells for clues that could aid in the development of nanotechnology engineering, a process in which particles one billionth of a meter in diameter would be used to build a new generation of stronger materials, one molecule at a time, for applications ranging from consumer goods to industrial, dental, and medical devices.

Dr. Evans is the principal or coinvestigator on three federal grants designed to provide nanotechnology engineers with a better understanding of the natural processes by which proteins bind to inorganic atoms at ambient temperatures, as they do in the development of seashells. Understanding these processes will help engineers to design nanoscopic assemblers — tiny machines that bind proteins and inorganic atoms, one by one, into finished products, a development that could lead to more efficient manufacturing processes. Each grant examines a different example of binding proteins to inorganic matter.

The seashell study, on which Dr. Evans is the principal investigator, is supported by a four-year grant in the amount of $497,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy. Dr. Evans is also the principal investigator on a three-year grant totaling $178,000, which was awarded by the U.S. Army for a study examining how proteins can be engineered to crystallize in a test tube at room temperatures. And the Department of Defense has awarded a three-year grant in the amount of $120,000 for a study of the mechanisms by which protein chains interact with gold, silver, cadmium sulfide, and other inorganic substances. Dr. Evans is a coinvestigator on this grant, which is being conducted in collaboration with the University of Washington.