Associate 1999-00

Dana D. Dlott


Ultrafast Shock Wave Spectroscopy of Biomolecular Dynamics

In the past few years, a new method for studying materials during shock wave compression has been developed in the Dlott laboratory. Termed the “nanoshock technique," a tiny volume of sample weighing only a few nanograms is instantaneously (a few trillionths of a second) compressed by a laser driven shock wave. Subsequent laser pulses generate optical and vibrational spectra, which reveal the microscopic processes which occur. During his Center appointment, Professor Dlott will develop the tools needed to extend the nanoshock technique to biological materials such as protein molecules, membranes, cells and tissues. What is the point? There are three exciting aspects of this work. First, it is a new way to learn about the mechanics of biological molecules. The nanoshock waves we produce compress materials by about 20%. A protein which is 4 nanometers in diameter can be compressed by about one nanometer, so previously inaccessible regions of the potential energy landscape can be studied. Second, laser-generated shock waves are used in several medical treatments, such as eye surgery, angioplasty and tattoo removal, but the effects of these shock waves on biological systems are not well understood. Third, new treatments may be developed using the unique properties of nanoshocks, especially in the area of tissue welding.