Biological Nanomaterials (NANO*4100)

Code and section: NANO*4100*01

Term: Fall 2011

Instructor: Robert Wickham


Course Information


Rob Wickham
MacN 448
(519) 824-4120 × 53704

Office Hours

Monday, 3 pm
Wednesday, 11 am


Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
1:30 pm – 2:20 pm
MacN 118

First Lecture

Friday, September 9th

Recommended texts

There is no required text for this course, however the following texts may be useful and can be obtained through the library

  • C. Branden and J. Tooze, Introduction to Protein Structure
  • D. Boal, Mechanics of the Cell
  • J. Israelachvili, Intermolecular and Surface Forces
  • R. A. L. Jones, Soft Machines: Nanotechnology and Life
  • C. Kumar (ed.), Biomimetic and Bioinspired Nanomaterials
  • E. Gazit, Plenty of Room for Biology at the Bottom: An Introduction to Bionanotechnology


Assessments Weight
Assignments 20%
Directed Readings 20%
Review NANO*1000 Paper 5%
Term Test 20%
Final Exam 35%

Term test date 

Friday, October 28th, in class.

Exam date

Friday, December 9th, place TBD.
(A medical certificate is required if the exam is missed.)

Course Outline

  • Week 1: Introduction to Biological Molecules
    1. Introduction to the themes of the course
    2. Biological building blocks – proteins, phospholipids, DNA, polysaccharides
    3. Proteins – amino acids, primary and secondary structure
    4. Case study – spider silk

    Focus Paper:
    - M. Heim, L. R¨omer and T. Scheibel, Hierarchical structures made of proteins: The complex architecture of spider webs and their constituent silk proteins, Chem. Soc. Rev. 39, pp. 156 - 164, (2010).
  • Week 2: Forces and Interactions in a Biological Context
    1. Screened electrostatics, van der Waals interaction, hydrogen bonding
    2. Hydrophobic effect, steric interactions, solvation forces
    3. Molecular recognition, enzymes and catalysts, chaperone molecules
  • Week 3: Polymer Physics
    1. Overview of polymeric biomaterials, single ideal polymer, random walk, Gaussian chain
    2. Self-avoiding polymer, semi-flexible polymers, worm-like chain, Ramachandran angles
    3. Polyelectrolytes
    4. Case study – protein folding (computational)
  • Week 4. Self-assembly – Membranes, Micelles, and Vesicles
    1. Overview of the behaviour of amphiphilles in solution, formation of aggregates, critical micelle concentration
    2. Relation of amphiphille shape and aggregate geometry, vesicles
    3. Case study – fluid mosaic model of biological membranes

    Focus papers:
    - S. J. Singer and G. L. Nicolson, The fluid mosaic model of the structure of cell membranes, Science 175, pp. 720-731 (1972).
    - J. Israelashvilli, Refinement of the fluid mosaic model of membrane structure, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 469, pp. 221 - 225 (1977).
    - E. Sackmann, Supported membranes: Scientific and practical applications, Science 271, pp. 43-48 (1996).
  • Week 5: Self-assembly – biological networks and fibres
    1. Biological networks: peptidoglycan, cytoskeleton, microtubules
    2. Cross-linking and gels, dynamic filaments and microtubules
    3. Layer by layer deposition, self-assembled polyelectrolyte films.
    4. Case study – tissue engineering

    Focus paper:
  • Week 6: Bionanocomposites
    1. Doping to improve material properties – teeth, bone.
    2. Biological templating – bacterial S-layers, scaffolding
    3. Mid-term
  • Week 7: DNA-based nanotechnology
    1. Polyelectrolytes
    2. Nucleic acid building blocks, complimentary nucleotides
    3. DNA, RNA, PNA, ribosomes and cDNA
    4. Case study: DNA junctions

    Focus paper:
  • Week 8: Soft Machines
    1. Bio-mimicry, bacteria bionanomotors (pili, flagella, molecular motors), bacterial strategies, ATP synthase, thermal ratchets
    2. Ion channels, photoactive proteins
    3. Actin-myosin

    Focus paper:
  • Week 9: Nanomedicine
    1. Crossing biological barriers – cell membranes, gastrointestinal (GI) barrier, blood-brain barrier, limitations of conventional medicine
    2. Nanoencapsulation
    3. Case study - gene therapy, complexing and de-complexing DNA, non-viral based gene delivery

    Focus paper:
  • Week 10: Nanotoxicology
  • Week 11: From the Laboratory to the Marketplace
    1. Producing commercially viable amounts of bionanological materials – recombinant DNA in bacteria and plants
    2. Issues – clinical trials, food and drug administration safety regulations, etc.
    3. Guest lecture

Course Policies

Working with other people

Students may discuss problems and amongst themselves but their written answers and/or solutions must not be shared with anyone. This would be an example of plagiarism.

Plagiarism is the act of appropriating the “...composition of another, or parts or passages of his [or her] writings, or the ideas or language of the same, and passing them off as the product of one’s own mind...” (Black’s Law Dictionary). A student found to have plagiarized will receive zero for the work concerned. Collaborators shown to be culpable will be subject to the same penalties.

Course and Instructor evaluation

The Department of Physics requires student assessment of all courses taught by the Department. These assessments provide essential feedback to faculty on their teaching by identifying both strengths and possible areas of improvement. In addition, annual student assessment of teaching provides part of the information used by the Department Tenure and Promotion Committee in evaluating the faculty member’s contribution in the area of teaching.

The Department’s teaching evaluation questionnaire invites student response both through numerically quantifiable data, and written student comments. In conformity with University of Guelph Faculty Policy, the Department Tenure and Promotions Committee only considers comments signed by students (choosing “I agree” in question 14). Your instructor will see all signed and unsigned comments after final grades are submitted. Written student comments may also be used in support of a nomination for internal and external teaching awards.

NOTE: No information will be passed on to the instructor until after the final grades have been submitted.