The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Boris Lau

Assistant Professor

Research interests 

Our interdisciplinary research group seeks to provide a mechanistic basis for a quantitative understanding of nanoscale phenomena in environmental and biological systems. We focus on studying the critical roles of organics in the design and successful implementation of nanomaterials as well as their impact on environmental health.

Current Research

Nanoparticle-Protein Interactions

As nanoparticles enter into biological systems, they are immediately exposed to a variety and concentration of proteins, and it is the nanoparticle-protein complexes rather than the nanoparticles alone that determine the resulting biological responses. Binding selectivity is an important design feature of effective and safe nanomaterials. For example, large differences in nanoparticles’ binding affinity with intended target (e.g., membrane receptor protein) and similar proteins in the serum are often a desirable quality for maximizing the penetration into cells. We work with material chemists to understand how surface features of nanoparticles determine their interactions with proteins.

Nanoparticle-Biofilm Interactions

In most environments, most bacteria occur as biofilms where cells are attached and surrounded by a secreted matrix of “sticky” extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). The EPS matrix is a critical target in the search for novel strategies to (de)stabilize biofilms. Knowledge on how nanoparticles interacts with the matrix is an essential prerequisite to exploitation. We are using super-resolution fluorescence microscopy to identify different diffusive behaviors of nanoparticles within the porous EPS matrix.

Nanoparticle-Cell Interactions

Concerns related to nanoparticle cytotoxicity and drug delivery have attracted attention to the problem of the passage of nanoparticles of diverse natures through the cell membrane. The complexity of the cell membrane structure along with the highly dynamic nature of lipid-lipid and lipid-protein interactions in the cell membrane make nanoparticle-cell interactions difficult to investigate in real time. As such, we are using supported lipid bilayers (SLB) as a simplified artificial membrane to study membrane disruption upon nanoparticle deposition.

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Academic Background

  • Postdoctoral Research Associate, Environmental Engineering, 2007 - 2008 Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
  • Postdoctoral Research Associate, Environmental Engineering, 2005 - 2007 Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
  • Doctor of Philosophy, Environmental Engineering, 2005 University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
  • Master of Science, Environmental Engineering, 2002
Ikuma K., Shi Z., Walker A.V., Lau B.L.T. 2016. Effects of protein species and surface physicochemical features on the deposition of nanoparticles onto protein-coated planar surfaces. RSC Advances. 6, 75491–75498.
Huang R. and Lau B.L.T. 2016. Biomolecule-nanoparticle interactions: Elucidation of the thermodynamics by isothermal titration calorimetry. Biochim. Biophys. Acta – Gen Subjects, 1860, 5, 945-956.
Ikuma K., Decho A.W., Lau B.L.T. 2015. When nanoparticles meet biofilms - Interactions guiding the environmental fate and accumulation of nanoparticles. Front. Microbiol., 6:591.
Zhang, F., Durham, P., Sayes, C.M., Lau, B. L. T., and Bruce E.D. 2015. Particle uptake efficiency is significantly affected by type of capping agent and cell line. J. Appl. Toxicol. 25 (10), 1114-1121.
Huang R., Carney R.P., Ikuma K., Stellacci F., and Lau B.L.T. 2014. Effects of surface compositional and structural heterogeneity on nanoparticle-protein interactions: different protein configurations. ACS Nano, 8 (6), 5402–5412.
Ikuma K., Madden A.S., Decho A.W., Lau B.L.T. 2014. Deposition of nanoparticles onto polysaccharide coated surfaces: implications for nanoparticle–biofilm interactions. Environ. Sci.: Nano, 1, 117-122.
Huang R., Carney R.P., Stellacci F., and Lau B.L.T. 2013. Colloidal Stability of Self-assembled Monolayer Coated Gold Nanoparticles: the Effects of Surface Compositional and Structural Heterogeneity. Langmuir. 29 (37), 11560–11566.
Huang R., Carney R.P., Stellacci F., and Lau B.L.T. 2013. Protein-Nanoparticle Interactions: the effects of surface compositional and structural heterogeneity is scale dependent. Nanoscale. 5 (15), 6928 – 6935.
Ruggeri F., Zhang F., Lind T., Bruce E.D., Lau B.L.T., and Cardenas M. 2013. Non-specific interactions between soluble proteins and lipids induce irreversible changes in the properties of lipid bilayers. Soft Matter. 9 (16), 4219 – 4226.
Ikuma K., Decho A. W., Lau B.L.T. 2013. The extracellular bastions of bacteria – a biofilm way of life. Nature Education Knowledge 4(2):2.
Contact Info

Civil & Environmental Engineering
18B Marston Hall
130 Natural Resources Road
Amherst, MA 01003-9292

Office: 413-545-5423