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Department of Chemistry

Dr Alyssa-Jennifer Avestro, PhD (Royal Commission 1851)

Research Fellow in the Department of Chemistry
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 42163
Early Career Fellow in the Durham Energy Institute

(email at alyssa.j.avestro@durham.ac.uk)

Research Interests

The Avestro Group at Durham University is interested in the rational design of hierarchically ordered macromolecules and restrictive noncovalent frameworks that exploit a range of optically (i.e., UV and visible-light) and electrochemically active components for the development of bio(opto)electronic nanomaterials. In addition to pursuing fundamental investigations on the unique structure-property relationships that result in light, color, and unprecedented physical change, the (bio)organic materials produced in the laboratory will also be assessed within the context of organic electronic devices (semiconducting, light-harvesting), optical sensing and bionanotheranostic applications. 

Initial forays into this area of research take inspiration from Nature's 'tried-and-true' motifs which involve the assembly of high molecular weight polypeptides into extensively hydrogen-bonded networks of increasing complexity, specificity and structural order. The Avestro Group has adopted a modular and convergent synthetic strategy for producing solution-processible and sequence-specific high-MW artificial polypeptides with a known propensity for crystallising into protein-mimetic structures. Aggregation-induced electronic coupling between neighboring groups within these controlled hierarchies is anticipated to produce, e.g., enhanced charge mobility and optical efficiencies for light absorption and emission.

An alternative strategy being explored in the Avestro Group aims to employ metal-ligand coordination, not only to encourage the crystallisation of robust networks, but to also generate a (opto)electronic response in the bulk phase unique to that of their summative components which arises from the introduction of restrictive bonding (rotational / vibrational) interactions to individual supramolecular building blocks. With an eye initially towards sensing, the inherent optical behaviour of these crystals is expected to modulate in response to guest and heat exposure. 

Research Opportunities / Project Openings

Research in the Avestro Group is a multidisciplinary effort that bridges interests in organic synthetic chemistry, bioengineering and contemporary materials science. Students in the Avestro Group will become well-versed in organic chemistry and peptide synthesis, supramolecular assembly, and advanced spectroscopy (solution and solid-state) as well as gain exposure to electrochemistry, crystallography, materials imaging analysis (confocal microscopy, AFM, SEM/TEM), and/or cell biology, depending on their personal interests.

2016-17 Project Openings

The Avestro Group is currently seeking an enthusiastic Master's level or erasmus student for Summer 2016 and/or the 2016-17 Academic Year (October). Interested candidates should please notify their Central Office within the Department of Chemistry and send an email Dr Avestro at alyssa.j.avestro at durham.ac.uk to set up an initial interview.

Areas: (1) Functional Molecules & Materials, (2) Physical Organic & Assembly, (3) Bioactive Chemistry & Synthesis

1. Directed chiral-assembly of artificial amyloidogenic nanofibres
(Organic synthesis, spectroscopy, materials imaging analysis, electrochemistry)

2. Intrinsically emissive faux-amyloids for cellular detection
(Primarily organic synthesis-driven, as in the above, with the long-term potential for live-cell studies)

3. Restrictive crystalline networks for optical sensing
(Organic synthesis, coordination chemistry, spectroscopy, crystallography)

About Dr Avestro

A native Californian, San Francisco Bay Area-bred, Dr Avestro has embarked on an international journey to pursue her independent career as an academic researcher in the chemical and materials sciences. She received her university training in soft materials and supramolecular (mechanically interlocked and host-guest redox) chemistry from two highly-ranked American universities: first at the University of California-Berkeley (2006-10, BS in Chemistry-Materials, emph. Bioengineering) with Prof Jean Fréchet and then at Northwestern University (2010-15, PhD in Chemistry, emph. Organic & Materials) with Prof Sir Fraser Stoddart FRS. Dr Avestro has also held a visiting research stay at the University of Geneva (2014-15, Host: Prof Stefan Matile) where she studied the contributions of fixed anion-pi interactions to rate-enhancement and rate-inversion in asymmetric organocatalysis. Dr Avestro is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including a UC Regent's and Chancellor's Scholarship (2006-10), a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship (2011-14), NSF GROW Fellowship (2014-15) and Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship (2014-15). Currently, Dr Avestro holds a prestigious three-year Science & Engineering Research Fellowship awarded by Her Majesty's Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 which will allow her to establish her independent research career, starting here at Durham University, UK.

Dr Avestro's synergystic activities include fellowship advising, teaching M.Chem Level 1 and 2 students (organic chemistry) at Durham, and serving as a Next-Generation Advisory Board member and editor for Chem, a new high-impact chemistry journal by Cell Press. Dr Avestro is a passionate advocate for promoting early career scientists, empowering women & minorities in science, and generating broader public appeal for research impact on an international level.