Prajna Dhar, Ph.D.

Prajna Dhar
  • -Track Director, Biomolecular Engineering
  • -Professor, Chemical and Petroleum Engineering
  • -Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering


B.S., Presidency College
M.S., Indian Institute of Technology
Ph.D., Florida State University


Associated Tracks

-Biomaterials & Tissue Engineering

-Biomolecular Engineering

Research Interests

-Molecular Engineering and Interfacial Nanomedicine


The primary overarching goals of the PI’s research are to understand nature’s rules that govern biological self-assembled processes. In particular, the PI is interested in correlating mechanical and structural properties of self-assembled biological processes that ultimately ensure proper functioning of biological systems. At the same time she is interested in developing interdisciplinary collaborations to study interesting problems in biology as well as training the next generation of scientists with interdisciplinary interests. For the past 8 years the PI has been studying interfacial phenomenon in both synthetic and biological amphiphilic molecules using both experimental techniques and theoretical analysis to understand the dynamics of self-assembly at interfaces and more recently in bulk systems. Additionally, the PI has had experience developing two different microrheology techniques (passive and active microrhelogy), both of which have been cited heavily. The PI has had more than five years of experience working with replacement lung surfactants, understanding and relating the role of lipid-protein interactions on structural and mechanical properties of lung surfactants using experimental and theoretical techniques developed by her, as well as guiding graduate and undergraduate student research projects. Her research efforts till date has been heavily cited, and was also recently featured in the NIH Directors blog.

Molecular Engineering and Interfacial Nanomedicine Lab

Biological self-assembly processes involve lipid-protein interactions that influence a wide variety of cellular processes (e.g., signal transduction, intracellular transport, antimicrobial defense, and energy conversion). Nanoscale fluctuations in lipid bilayers, that form the structural basis of the cell membrane, can influence the protein structure and dynamics during health as well as during the onset and progression of disease. In fact, a wide spectrum of diseases is a result of abnormal or deficient lipid-protein interactions. For example, recent experimental evidence implicates lipid bilayers in the aggregation of proteins that results in the formation of amyloid plaques or filamentous structures. These structures form a common pathology of degenerative disorders affecting the central nervous system (e.g., Alzheimer's disease,) and a variety of peripheral tissues (e.g., type II diabetes). Understanding nature's rules for biological selfassembly is crucial to achieve highly specific medical intervention at the molecular scale by developing smart nanomaterials that can detect, cure, or replace diseased cells and tissues (the primary goals of nanomedicine). A major challenge in nanomedicine is to develop a thorough understanding of the physical and chemical properties of self-assembled biological structures at the molecular and cellular level. Additionally, smarter strategies are required for engineering miniature devices that work synergistically within the human body to provide more efficient medical therapies.

Lipid Protein Interactions

The long term research goals of my laboratory are to advance the field of Nanomedicine, by employing a suite of biophysical techniques to (i) develop a thorough understanding of the organization of the cellular architecture at the molecular and cellular level, and (ii) engineer miniature and efficient drug-delivery devices that work synergistically within the human body. Reorganizations in the molecular and/or cellular architecture may lead to the onset and progression of a wide spectrum of diseases including neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, respiratory diseases, and metastasis(spreading of cancer). Our lab is involved in understanding how abnormal or deficient lipid-protein interactions can alter the lateral organization of lipid molecules in cell membranes leading to the onset of various diseases. Using our unique active microrheology technique coupled with microscopy techniques, we will sensitively monitor small changes in the lateral organization of biological self-assembled systems (lipid membranes and cells) as a way to explore lipid-protein and protein-protein interactions and protein aggregation. Understanding the early stages of disease progression will open up new ways to detect and treat unhealthy cells. At the same time, current trends in medical research require an interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers to work synergistically towards a common goal. Our lab provides training opportunities for this next generation of researchers.