An atom or molecule in its lowest energy state (the ground state) can be made to absorb energy and move into a short lived excited state. When that atom or molecule returns to the ground state, energy can be released as light. This phenomenon, known as fluorescence, can be observed, and properties such as lifetimes, energies, and wavelength distributions of the emitted light can be measured. These properties carry information about the environment, structure, and dynamics of the system containing the excited atom or molecule. In the O'Hara lab, experiments are conducted to reveal some of the inner workings of these systems both in large assemblies of molecules (bulk phases) and one molecule at a time (single molecule). Using fluorescence, our lab studies affinity maturation in antibodies, metal-based drug delivery systems in chemotherapy, binding of pesticides and environmental toxins to the estrogen receptor, folding of synthetic polymers, signal transduction in calmodulin, and protein-DNA flexibility in t7 RNA polymerase.
In addition we have built and are using single molecule spectrometer to gain even more information in these systems as we can look at individual molecules instead of measuring system averages.
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