Hitting the Switch: Molecular Switches Give Scientists Control
"In biology, molecular shape is everything," according to Dr. Neil Branda, an organic materials chemist and Canada Research Chair in Materials Science. And he should know, because he's in the molecular shape business.
Branda's "business" revolves around the idea that the key to exerting control over a molecule's function is to have control over its structure. This control can be exercised by inducing reversible, "on/off switch"-like changes in the molecule's structure; in other words, the molecule's structure becomes a "molecular switch." As Branda says, "Only when we can control the structure can we control the function."
One of the most exciting applications of Branda's molecular switching idea is in the area of health sciences and medicine, where his switching technology may be used to help solve current drug delivery problems and create anti-cancer drugs with a functional activity that can be switched on and off at will.
Molecular control can be applied to molecules found in other walks of life as well. For example, Branda's research has led to the engineering of organic molecules with switchable properties for the development of new and improved materials science technologies. One such development centres on photo-responsive, organic molecule-based electronic circuitry. Another focuses on the use of organic polymers for display and copying applications in information and communications technology.
Branda is a member of 4D LABS, an SFU-based research centre dedicated to fast-tracking the design, synthesis, and commercialization of innovative functional materials with broad applications. The lab's rich research environment is an ideal setting for Branda to explore new electronic and photonic product uses for his molecular switches, applications that promise to advance the current state of both information and health technologies.