Carol Hall’s research is driven by her fascination with molecules of interesting architectures and energetics, and by her desire to understand how these molecular features combine to yield complex mesoscopic or macroscopic features. Her primary tools in this effort are statistical thermodynamics, which allows estimation of thermophysical properties from knowledge of intermolecular forces, and computer simulation, which permits the visualization of systems on a molecular level. These techniques are used to model the self assembly of soft materials including polymers, colloids, and surfactants, proteins whose aggregation is implicated in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, and other biomolecules.
Hall’s first major area of research is “soft” materials, such as polymers, colloids, and surfactants. Soft materials are of interest because they spontaneously self-organize into mesoscopic physical structures, which can then be exploited for nanotechnology applications. In the polymers area, she and colleague Jan Genzer are investigating protein-like copolymers, a new type of functional material with potential applications as adhesion promoters, drug delivery devices, and nano-reactors. In the colloids area, she, colleague Orlin Velev and other members of the NSF-sponsored Research Triangle Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) are exploring the self assembly, crystallization and/or gelation of systems of multi-polar colloid particles in electric and magnetic fields so as to guide the discovery of advanced materials. She and her students are collaborating with Stavroula Sofou at Rutgers University on a project aimed at designing responsive, multi-functional liposomes for delivery of cancer drugs. Finally she is working with Vijay John from Tulane University to design hydrophobically modified chitosan molecules for use as dispersants or stabilizers in oil spills.
A second major area of research is protein aggregation. Protein aggregation is associated with a number of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and the prion diseases. She and her students are using computer simulation to investigate the formation of ordered protein aggregates, called fibrils, which are invariably found in the brains of disease victims. A coarse-grained protein folding model, PRIME20, developed in the Hall lab enables simulation of the spontaneous fibrillation of specific amyloidogenic peptides, including beta amyloid, the Alzheimer’s peptide.
A new area of research is computational protein design. Along with collaborator Paul Agris, Director of the RNA Institute at Albany University, she is designing a novel algorithm aimed at identifying peptides that might be able to interfere with replication of the HIV virus. Thus far they have designed a peptide that binds selectivity to the anticodon loop of tRNALys3, which has two non-natural nucleotides. These peptides were synthesized and tested in the Agris lab, and found to bind selectively to the RNA in question-a patent application is pending.
Focus Areas - Molecular Simulations of Biomolecule and Soft Material Self Assembly. Peptide Design Algorithms.
B. S. , Physics, Cornell University (1967)
Ph. D., Physics, Stony Brook University (1972)