Chemical Engineering: Cellular Interfaces – Bending the Rules

Date(s) - 09/17/2012
4:00 pm

Dr. Ashutosh Agrawal, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, University of Houston

Biological membranes separate cells and organelles from their surrounding environment thus defining their identity. These surfaces are made of lipid molecules that exhibit a unique balance between love and fear of water that grants them their novel physical behavior. They are neither solid nor fluid – a property that allows them to maintain their structure yet undergo large morphological transformations enabling the cells to grow, move and divide. They maintain different chemical environments within and outside the cell while allowing continuous transport of nutrients into the cell. But as in life, nothing comes free and the morphological changes in these structures are associated with energetic costs that the cells must pay out of their energy budget. In this talk, I will provide a broad overview of the theoretical framework that captures the physical response of these intriguing interfaces and interpret the emergent consequences for some important biophysical phenomena. First, I will discuss the physics of membrane-protein interactions that is vital for the existence of fascinating geometric structures in cells and for the successful execution of the various metabolic pathways. This will be followed by a discussion on membrane-glass interactions and its significance in electrophysiology studies.

Ashutosh Agrawal is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at University of Houston (UH) and works in the area of biophysics and bioengineering. Before joining UH in Fall 2011, he was a Research Associate in the Department of Applied Physics at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) since 2010. He received his Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley in 2009 where he worked on modeling the mechanics of lipid membranes. His current research focuses on developing predictive models that elucidate the role of physics of cellular interfaces in phenomena ranging from metabolism to signaling and their applications to nanomedicine.