Geneticist earns nano award
Nicholas Fellowship winner wants to draw fuel from bionanoparticles
BY MIKE WILLIAMS
Rice News staff
You don’t usually see the words “geneticist” and “nanotechnology” in the same sentence, but Matthew Blankschien is preparing to change all that.
The Rice University postdoctoral researcher, a molecular geneticist by training, is engineering light-triggered bionanoparticles for energy production and other applications.
He’s getting a boost as the winner of this year’s biennial Peter and Ruth Nicholas Postdoctoral Fellowship, the third Rice researcher to earn the award through a competition shepherded by the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology.
Blankschien, co-advised by Ramon Gonzalez, Rice’s William W. Akers Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Michael Wong, professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering, will use the two-year grant to prove it’s possible to change the function of proteins with light.
“There are so many naturally occurring enzymes — so many material species and so many different types of reactions we can utilize or exploit,” said Blankschien, who came to Rice to work on industrial applications of metabolic engineering and synthetic biology, specifically in the area of renewable fuels and chemicals. One possible goal, he said, is to make those proteins produce hydrogen gas as a renewable biofuel.
Blankschien’s winning proposal was one of eight submitted for the fellowship.
“We had more applicants than ever before, and the proposals were all excellent, making the selection of only one recipient a real challenge,” said Smalley Institute Director Wade Adams. “Matthew’s proposal showed great creativity, coupling an important application area with fundamental bio and nano science.”
Blankschien joined Rice in 2009 after earning his doctorate from the Molecular and Human Genetics Program at Baylor College of Medicine. The Wisconsin native earned his bachelor’s in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay.