Date of Award

Summer 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Physics & Astronomy

First Advisor

A.T. Charlie Johnson

Second Advisor

Michael L. Klein


Nanoscience deals with the characterization and manipulation of matter on the atomic/molecular size scale in order to deepen our understanding of condensed matter and develop revolutionary technology. Meeting the demands of the rapidly advancing nanotechnological frontier requires novel, multifunctional nanoscale materials. Among the most promising nanomaterials to fulfill this need are biopolymer-carbon nanotube hybrids (Bio-CNT). Bio-CNT consists of a single-walled carbon nanotube (CNT) coated with a self-assembled layer of biopolymers such as DNA or protein. Experiments have demonstrated that these nanomaterials possess a wide range of technologically useful properties with applications in nanoelectronics, medicine, homeland security, environmental safety and microbiology. However, a fundamental understanding of the self-assembly mechanics, structure and energetics of Bio-CNT is lacking. The objective of this thesis is to address this deficiency through molecular dynamics (MD) simulation, which provides an atomic-scale window into the behavior of this unique nanomaterial. MD shows that Bio-CNT composed of single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) self-assembles via the formation of high affinity contacts between DNA bases and the CNT sidewall. Calculation of the base-CNT binding free energy by thermodynamic integration reveals that these contacts result from the attractive pi–pi stacking interaction. Binding affinities follow the trend G > A > T > C. MD reveals that long ssDNA sequences are driven into a helical wrapping about CNT with a sub-10 nm pitch by electrostatic and torsional interactions in the backbone. A large-scale replica exchange molecular dynamics simulation reveals that ssDNA-CNT hybrids are disordered. At room temperature, ssDNA can reside in several low-energy conformations that contain a sequence-specific arrangement of bases detached from CNT surface. MD demonstrates that protein-CNT hybrids composed of the Coxsackie-adenovirus receptor are biologically active and function as a nanobiosensor with specific recognition of Knob proteins from the adenovirus capsid. Simulation also shows that the rigid CNT damps structural fluctuations in bound proteins, which may have important ramifications for biosensing devices composed of protein-CNT hybrids. These results expand current knowledge of Bio-CNT and demonstrate the effectiveness of MD for investigations of nano-biomolecular systems.

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