Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Community
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Watery Research Theme to Flow Through New Tokmakoff Lab

Published: Friday, March 15, 2013
Last Updated: Friday, March 15, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Andrei Tokmakoff to use the world’s shortest infrared light pulses to pluck molecular bonds.

Once Andrei Tokmakoff gets his new laser laboratory operational later this year, he will use the world’s shortest infrared light pulses to pluck molecular bonds like a stringed musical instrument.

Tokmakoff, the Henry G. Gale Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry, arrived at the University of Chicago in January to tackle new problems in biology with the aid of ultrafast vibrational spectroscopy methods that he has developed.

“He does very sophisticated spectroscopy, in particular vibrational spectroscopy,” said Richard Jordan, professor and chairman of chemistry. “He has developed advanced, laser-based methods that can probe how the bonds in molecules stretch and bend.”

Tokmakoff’s hire is a major component of the chemistry department’s effort to expand from its current 22 faculty members to 27 or 28 within the next two years.

“We have targeted three or four important areas to build in. One of them is biological chemistry, those aspects of chemistry that deal with biological problems,” Jordan said.

Tokmakoff does both physical and biophysical chemistry. Physical chemistry - studying the behavior of materials and chemical reactions at the atomic and molecular level - has a long tradition of excellence at UChicago.

Biophysical chemistry has emerged more recently as a major campus initiative that encompasses the James Franck Institute and the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics (Tokmakoff is a member of both) and the Biophysical Sciences Program.

A special liquid
Tokmakoff seeks to understand the special behavior of liquid water, protein-water interactions, and the dynamics of protein folding and binding. This includes how hydrogen bonds connect different molecules to one another and how these bonds rearrange themselves so that the liquid flows.

“These are not phenomena that can be described simply in terms of the motion of one molecule,” said Tokmakoff, formerly of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Many of the reasons why it’s so vital to life processes also originate not just as one individual molecule, but how they all collectively interact with biological molecules.”

Tokmakoff generates light bursts at 40-femtosecond intervals with ultrafast vibrational spectroscopy. “Light travels the diameter of a cell or a small pollen grain in that time,” he said. Molecules barely move in 40 femtoseconds (a quadrillionth of a second), which corresponds to the period of a molecular bond vibration.

These ultra-short pulses of infrared radiation “act a bit like stop-motion photography,” Tokmakoff said. Although it’s not real photography, “a sequence of ultra-short bursts of light can capture the motion of an object by freezing it at different points in time. We don’t physically image the molecules, but infrared radiation interacts with the bond vibrations of water,” he said. These interactions reveal the structure of the object in question.

“Through a sequence of these pulses we can design experiments that give us a lot of information about the molecular structure before it changes, even if it is constantly moving,” Tokmakoff explained.

At MIT, Tokmakoff applied ultrafast spectroscopic methods to key problems in chemistry. He discovered that the molecular structure of water evolves in big jumps when the molecules collectively change the connectivity of their hydrogen bonds. “It’s a very strange behavior, but the fact that water does this and does it often really makes it a liquid and allows it to flow.”

“Beyond water we’re also applying the same sorts of methods to a lot of problems in molecular biophysics. Many of the problems that exist there share the characteristics with water that they are messy, complicated, constantly evolving molecular structures,” Tokmakoff said, including protein folding.

Disordered yet functional
Tokmakoff’s group has a special interest in disordered proteins. Molecular biologists primarily conceive of proteins as well-defined, three-dimensional, biologically active structures. “The reason we conceive them that way is because that’s what our experiments tell us,” he said. In fact, many proteins are either partially or fully disordered, yet they can still be functional.

Scientists often talk of proteins connecting like a lock and key, but that analogy falls far short of explaining how two structurally disorganized molecules manage to find and then connect with one another.

Two proteins exhibiting no apparent structure wander around randomly in a cell. When they encounter one another they somehow know that they were made for each other, and they often do this with more efficiency and speed than current theory can explain.

“You’ve got one molecule of thousands and thousands in a cell, and somehow it’s miraculously going to find its one partner and do it so efficiently-it’s just mind-boggling,” Tokmakoff said. Tucked into the many aspects of that problem is the molecular fine print: how a protein recognizes and binds to its partner.

Many classes of proteins exhibit such behavior, and Tokmakoff would like to unlock the secret to that behavior. “We’re in the middle of all kinds of cool experiments,” he said.

Further Information

Join For Free

Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 3,500+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 5,200+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Shape-Shifting Molecule Tricks Viruses Into Mutating Themselves To Death
Study uses two-dimensional infrared spectroscopy to help distinguish between normal and shape-shifted structures.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Scientific News
The Power Of Orthogonality In Assessing The Stability Of Biopharmaceuticals
By utilizing orthogonal techniques, researchers can maximize the secure application of all analytical results generated.
Curcumin Shows Promise as Cancer Treatment
When delivered at the correct circadian phase, curcumin demonstrates sustained toxicity in cancer cells and should be considered for use in patient care.
3D-Printing in Science: Conference Co-Staged with LABVOLUTION
LABVOLUTION 2017 will have an added highlight of a simultaneous conference, "3D-Printing in Science".
Using the Linkam THMS600 Temperature Stage to Study Fluid Inclusions
The University of Lyon use the Linkam THMS600 temperature stage for the study of Brillouin spectroscopy of fluid inclusions.
Guided Needles Hit the Mark
New sensor could help anesthesiologists place needles for epidurals and other medical procedures.
Making Mechanically Strong Nanotubes With Light
Researchers develop "Helix-to-Tube", a simple strategy to synthesize covalent organic nanotubes.
Measuring Chemistry on a Chip
Researchers developing chemical sensor chip for sample analysis in a lab or monitoring air and water quality in the field.
How Cloud Connectivity Can Combat the Reproducibility Crisis
This infographic explains the reproducibility crisis, and how cloud connectivity can help overcome this problem.
Magnetic Drug Delivery in the Body
Imagine a device that could transport drugs to any diseased site in the body with the help of a small magnet.
Detecting Hazardous Chemicals in Complex Mixtures
Researchers are pioneering a new chemical substance analyis software technique that could increase illicit substance detection.

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
3,500+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
5,200+ scientific videos