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Carlos Castro Receives NSF CAREER Award
Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Carlos Castro has earned a National Science Foundation's Early CAREER Development award for his research proposal, titled "A Molecular Force Sensor for Single Molecule Studies of Cellular Force Application." The NSF Career award, which recognizes outstanding junior faculty, provides Castro with funding across five years in the amount of a $408,164 grant.
As part of his work, Castro will develop, calibrate, and implement a nanoscale molecular force sensor that is capable of measuring cellular traction forces (CTF) of single membrane proteins and protein complexes. He expects that the results of his research will shed light on cellular function and guide the design of biomedical devices for applications such as cell sorting or biosensing. The nanoscale molecular force sensor will be constructed using nanotechnology and scaffolded DNA origami (DNA assembled into nanostructures with a pre-determined shape). The device is also intended to provide new insights intoantigen detection and 3D fibrous environments by recording the cellular processes of migration.
Castro noted that while molecular and cellular machinery is a prominent area for engineering research, most engineering students are not exposed to these systems until late in their undergraduate or graduate career, if at all. He commented, "Our DNA origami design and molecular and cellular mechanics research is ideally-suited to engage a diverse group of students in design and mechanics of biological parts."
As is the case with most NSF Career awards, part of his funding will support the education and outreach mission of his research. This component of the grant is intended to increase the pipeline of students from underrepresented populations participating in research at the interface of engineering and biology. Castro, who directs the Nanoengineering and Biodesign Laboratory, will develop a biomolecular design and mechanics workshop to be offered through Ohio State's outreach efforts to middle and high school students. The research will also be leveraged to develop a lab component for a course developed by Castro on "Mechanics of Biomolecular Systems."