Marszalek Wins NSF Grant to Unravel DNA, Sugars

Piotr Marszalek, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, has received a grant award from the National Science Foundation for his work in characterizing the fundamental mechanics of sugars and nucleic acids--the building blocks of complex carbohydrates, DNA and RNA--at the molecular level. The grant will provide $510,000 over the next three years.

Collaborators on the research will include co-principal investigator Weitao Yang, in Duke's chemistry department, and Rob Clark, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke, as well as Michael Franklin of Montana State University and Hanna S-Gracz of NC State University.

Marszalek's work relies on atomic force microscopy, which allows precise measurements of forces within individual molecules. Indeed, the Marszalek team recently reported new findings in which they used the AFM technique to examine the strength of physical interactions within single strands of DNA.

The research effort will provide an education and research opportunity for a postdoctoral fellow as well as two graduate and two undergraduate students, according to Marszalek. "Because our project crosses several experimental disciplines--including biophysics, experimental and computational chemistry and biochemistry--it will provide a rich learning experience for all involved, junior and senior researchers alike," he said.

Marszalek is a member of the Duke Center for Biologically Inspired Materials and Material Systems. He holds a masters degree in physics from the University of Warsaw, Poland, and a doctorate in electrical engineering from the Electrotechnical Institute/Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, Poland.