Jennifer S. HaghpanahJennifer S. Haghpanah

Ph.D. (5th. year), Chemical and Biological Sciences

Year in graduate program: 5th. year (2006)
Research Topic: Protein engineering
Partner Schools:IS 383 Philippa Schuyler / Urban Assembly Institute of Math & Science for Young Women
Partner Teachers:Lindrick Outerbridge / Noam Pillischer
Email Jennifer


Under the guidance of Prof. Jin Kim Montclare, Jennifer is working in the field of protein engineering. One of her projects is focused on the synthesis and characterization of protein block polymers comprised of two distinct self-assembling domains (SADs). A set of protein polymers composed of elastin (E) and compcc (C) SADs, with the following orientations EC, CE, ECE, and CEC has been explored. She is studying these proteins both on the micro- and macroscopic scales. She has examined the mechanical properties and binding capabilities of these materials. Her research shows how the behavior of the protein polymers is highly dependent on the orientation of the SADs. A motivation for this work is to design novel materials that could be applied to the field of drug delivery and tissue engineering.

Jennifer is also working with fluorinated poly-ubiqutin and she is interested in the impact of fluorinated amino acids on the mechanical and thermodynamic properties of this biopolymer. While fluorinated amino acids have been employed in protein design to impart stability, there have been little or no studies on its effects on a protein's mechanical integrity. Jennifer's work will provide insight into the relationship between thermodynamic and mechanical properties of fluorinated proteins. Lessons from these studies will provide guidelines on the design of future proteins with enhanced physicochemical properties.

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Figure: Studying the influence of the orientation of proteins on the behavior of block co-polymers.

Integration in The Class Room

Jennifer integrates her work in the classroom through weekly presentations and experiments to the 4th and 5th grade classes. She links state-mandated topics to her scientific research. For example, when she teaches the students about forces entailing different materials that are brittle and elastic, she designs an engineering based experiment that involves the pulling of different breads with a NXT robot. Jennifer connects this activity to her research by teaching students about the mechanical properties of elastin and ubiquitin proteins, drawing from micro-rheology and biophysical AFM results. The students begin to understand the concept better when Jennifer applies her research to the concept.

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Figure: A bread tied to a chair on one end and to a robot at the other end.

Jennifer also introduces the concept of projectile motion to students by designing a robotic trebuchet. Lighter projectiles travel farther than the heavier ones. She relates the weight and shape of the projectile to the small molecule binding experiments, i.e., like the lighter projectiles, small molecules bind better and travel faster to their target location. Moreover, Jennifer illustrates protein structure-function relationship to robotic design. Thus, the students leave with an understanding of the scientific concept and can apply that to cutting edge research in the field of protein engineering.

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Figure: Students preparing the trebuchet robot to launch a projectile.

1 - AMPS Fellow; 2 - CBRI Fellow