Biomolecules at surfaces

The Biomolecules at Surfaces group focuses on interdisciplinary research in the field of biomolecule – material interactions. The global aim is the design of functional, smart materials with health benefits for the society. Our projects are at the interface of fundamental and applied science.


The methods of characterization include in-situ and in-operando methods to measure structure, composition and the interaction of the new functional devices with biological systems. We use synchrotron- and lab based techniques, analytical- and computational chemistry as well as molecular biological methods. This bridging of disciplinary boundaries allows a fundamental understanding of the biomolecule - materials interactions on multiple levels with the aim of wider engineering applications.


We combine interdisciplinary knowledge to optimize materials for interactions on a molecular, structural and cellular / tissue level, and work on

  • The design and development of materials, controlling the interactions with biomolecules (i.e. anti-adhesive, antimicrobial properties);
  • Protein biosensors using genetic engineering (i.e. for sensing small biomolecules such as glucose);
  • New biological nanostructures and their assembly into more complex functional materials surfaces (i.e. for drug targeting and delivery applications or tissue design).
Controlling the biomolecule-material interaction
Figure 1. Protein-surface interaction examples. Immobilization strategies influence the protein activity.


The Biomolecules at Surfaces group develops novel materials for medical applications and biosensors based on ‘smart’ material surfaces, modified with functional molecules such as polymers, peptides, proteins, and enzymes. Strategies for the surface immobilization of these molecules are based on physical and chemical interaction, amongst others adsorption, layer by layer technique and click chemistry. Functional proteins and enzymes are designed and modified with recombinant protein production and protein engineering approaches. This allows the steering of their response to specific biomolecules such as glucose, bacteria toxins, and plasma proteins. Genetic engineering is used to control the affinity of the biomolecule for a specific material substrate, or introduce reactive groups for site-specific immobilization on the material surface.

Understanding the biomolecule-material interaction
Figure 2. Small angle X-ray scattering of polymer micelles. Detector readout and integrated scattering curve with calculated fit (red line).


We study biomolecules, materials and their interactions with highly contemporary methods such as small angle X-ray and neutron scattering (SAXS, SANS), grazing incidence small angle scattering (GI-SAXS) and light scattering techniques. For the reconstruction of structures and composition on multiple levels, we combine these techniques with real space imaging, microscopy, NMR, ellipsometry, circular dichroism and bioinformatics. The activities in the development of new experimental and computational methods further help to understand and control function in biological systems, from the molecular to the structural level. Our group spans the bridge between the material properties and the biological function through an interdisciplinary team of material scientists, chemists, and biologists.

The research is directed to three main areas
  • The design of smart material surfaces for optimized response from cells and tissues;
  • Engineering of biosensors for rapid diagnostics and monitoring of health conditions in biological systems;
  • ‘Stealth’ systems for the delivery and trans-membrane transport of drugs, DNA and plasmids as well as enhanced delivery of biomolecules.
Research questions in these areas include:
  • What is the effect of surface properties on the self-assembly of biomolecules?
  • How do the surface properties correlate to the materials function?
  • Can we understand and design proteins and other molecules that fold, aggregate or crystallize on specific surfaces on demand, tailoring the interactions with cells and bacteria?
Dr. Stefan Salentinig

Dr. Stefan Salentinig
Wissenschaftl. Gruppenleiter

Phone: +41 58 765 7202