Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Rein Ulijn

Committee Members

Xi Chen

Tong Wang

Subject Categories

Biochemical and Biomolecular Engineering | Biochemistry | Materials Chemistry


nanochemistry, peptide, crystal


The field of supramolecular chemistry has undergone significant evolution over the last few decades, progressing from fundamental studies of self-assembling systems to the rational design of functional materials with exceptional properties. Among these materials, short peptides have emerged as a chemically simple yet highly versatile class of biomimetic compounds. Initially, short peptides were used as model systems to understand larger protein interactions. As the field progressed, short peptides were found to have exceptional functionality, and are now explored as functional nanomaterials for diverse applications. In many cases, short peptide materials have displayed properties not found in biology, in some cases exceeding the functional parameters of comparable materials in nature. This thesis discusses a set of materials we developed with inspiration from biology, broadly under the theme of “minimalist biomimicry”. There is a focus on biomolecular crystals, with deep investigations into their design, optimization, and functional properties. Chapter one provides a broad review of recent developments in bio-inspired materials, with a specific focus on peptide-based systems exhibiting exceptional functionality. Chapter two discusses the development and characterization of a series of phenylalanine-based crystals that exhibit water-responsive actuation properties. The different actuation responses observed in the three different crystals are rationalized based on their similar yet distinct crystal lattice structures, as examined through humidity-controlled spectroscopic and crystallographic measurements. Chapter three discusses nucleotides as a regulator of guanine crystallization. We find that our crystallization strategy allows for polymorph and morphological selection through careful control over crystal nucleation and growth. Finally, in chapter four minimal peptide hydrogels towards water purification applications are discussed.

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