Jang Receives NSF CAREER Award to Develop Synthetic Protocells

Yeongseon Jang, Ph.D.

Yeongseon Jang, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, has received a National Science Foundation CAREER award. With this award, Dr. Jang aims to develop a synthetic protocell constructed of protein building blocks through tuning their self-assembly behavior.

“Synthetic versions of protocells that mimic primitive cells assembled from biomacromolecules can serve as simple, precursor models of living cells and can advance understanding about the basic rules of life,” said Dr. Jang.

This prestigious award will allow Dr. Jang’s research lab to develop design strategies to control the properties of new classes of protein-powered synthetic protocells. The proposed protocells will be created by self-assembly of recombinantly engineered proteins, resulting in cell-like structures exhibiting specific activities. Ultimately, the synthetic protocells will serve as smart, autonomous cell-like particles that can be used for a wide range of applications from protein delivery systems to micro-bioreactors.

This award will also provide hands-on learning opportunities to underrepresented students from middle school to graduate students, and to develop academic curricula on the self-assembly of recombinant fusion proteins.

“Dr. Jang’s work to elucidate the principles of fusion protein assembly into protocells is an exciting example of how our faculty combine fundamental chemical engineering principles and cutting-edge biotechnology tools to obtain deeper understanding of biological systems and develop novel solutions to pressing problems,” said Dr. Carlos M. Rinaldi-Ramos, Dean’s Leadership Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering.

The Jang SMART-Bio (Soft Matter Assembly and Recombinant Technology for Biomaterials) Lab seeks to provide fundamental and practical insights into the field of supramolecular biomaterials, inspired by nature. These biomaterials include multi-compartment vesicles, nanostructured polymer thin films, and a variety of self-assembled structures, which can serve as artificial cells, drug-eluting thin films, and antibacterial surfaces.

Dr. Jang holds a Ph.D. and a B.S. in chemical engineering from Seoul National University.

CAREER awards are the NSF’s most prestigious award for early-career faculty and are designed to help provide a foundation for a lifetime of scientific leadership. The awards are given to an outstanding scientist who exemplifies the role of teacher-scholars through research, education and the integration of education and research.