Surface interactions are ubiquitous in all aspects of life: the air-lung interface enables breathing; the cell surface governs whether drugs can interact with and penetrate bacterial membranes; the aerosol/particle surface governs cloud formation and the chemistry of reactions of pollutants; the surface of a material defines its functionality (e.g. biocompatibilty or ultrahydrophobicity). These are all controlled by weak, non-bonding interactions between molecules. Thus, knowledge of interfacial structure and the nature of interactions between surface-active components allows us to understand, predict and control interfacial processes.
We have three main areas of research: First is the fundamental understanding of the biophysical nature of cellular processes and the role on interfacial lipid-lipid and lipid-protein interactions. We then use our knowledge of the lateral organization of lipid films and their specific binding properties for the design of functional materials, in particular nanopatterned films and coatings with biocompatible properties and/or the ability to tether specific protein substrates. Finally, knowledge of reactions at interfaces has led to our development of a new experimental approach for determining the contribution of surface reactions in the processing of atmospheric aerosols.
Thus we use surface characterization techniques (e.g. Langmuir films, atomic force microscopy, optical microscopy, ellipsometry, grazing incidence x-ray diffraction) to address areas of key importance to health, the environment and the materials of everyday life.