Faculty Q&A: Kalina Hristova

April 22, 2016

Kalina Clipped2aDr. Kalina Hristova, Marlin U. Zimmerman Jr. Faculty Scholar and Professor, shares how she became interested in materials science and some advice for engineers engaged in materials research.

How did you get interested in materials science? What interests you the most about materials science?

In college, I became fascinated by the organization of the biological membrane.  It is a self-assembled structure that is held together by very weak interactions. It is incredibly thin (only 5 nanometers), yet it provides a perfect separation between the cell and the outside environment. Nature acted as a materials scientist to create this structure, so I wanted to be a materials scientist too. I wanted to understand the principles of self-organization better, so I could design structures that could be eventually used in the clinic, for the benefit of human health.

What do you consider your biggest research accomplishment so far?

We have been able to conduct quantitative measurements of proteins interactions in biological membranes. The biological system that we study is incredibly complex, yet now we know how to assess the thermodynamics of the interactions, with unprecedented precision. Our newest measurements utilize two-photon excitation and spectral detection, and allow us to acquire binding curves over a very broad protein concentration range. Such measurements are helping us reveal the mechanism of action of the proteins in the membrane.

Where do you see the future of your field of research headed? What innovations are coming?

The membrane proteins we study are implicated in many developmental disorders and cancers. They are difficult to study, but we expect that novel methodologies will answer the open questions in the field. We are also hopeful that the basic knowledge that we and our peers are pursuing will soon help guide the search for new better therapeutics.

What advice do you have for students and young engineers engaging in materials research?

Be creative! Keep an open mind when approaching a new problem. Have patience, and believe in yourself!

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