Ph.D., Chemical Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

M.S., Chemical Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

B.S., Chemical Engineering
Auburn University

Contact Information

107 Olin Hall
VU Mailbox: PMB 351604, Nashville, TN 37235-1604 USA

Kane Jennings

Chair, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

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Research Focus


My research efforts are aimed at the molecular design and fabrication of new surfaces and materials that mimic, replicate, or employ highly functional biological systems. We use the methods of self-assembly as well as surface-initiated polymerizations (grafting from) to modify surfaces with molecular or (bio)macromolecular films for applications in solar energy conversion, responsive coatings, superhydrophobic surfaces, and nanoscale lubrication. In this research, I employ graduate and undergraduate students to train a cadre of talented young minds in the molecular and interfacial aspects of biohybrid, bio-inspired, and bioreplica materials.

Biohybrid Solar Energy Conversion with Photosynthetic Proteins

Photosystem I (PSI) is one of two key protein complexes that efficiently converts sunlight to chemical energy to drive photosynthesis in green plants. Through collaboration with David Cliffel (VU Chemistry), we are investigating the fundamental issues affecting photo-assisted electron transfer properties of PSI deposited as thin films on electrode surfaces. Our recent innovations in this area include interfacing PSI with p-doped silicon to achieve directional electron transfer and photocurrents of 0.9 mA/cm2, integration of PSI with graphene oxide, reduced graphene oxide, and conducting polymers to bolster photocurrents and photopotentials, and adsorbing PSI monolayers onto a single layer of graphene to achieve ultrathin photoactive electrodes.

Nanoscale Lubrication

We are collaborating with Professor Clare McCabe to develop, through a combined computational and experimental approach, molecular insight into the mechanisms of lubrication in micro/nanoelectromechanical systems (MEMS/NEMS), and to use this as the basis for the molecular design of new MEMS/NEMS lubricants. To date our published results have focused on bound monolayer and polymeric films that are engineered to contain varying extents of mobility and cohesive energy and can present functional surfaces to support liquid overlayers. We are now employing poly(ionic liquid) films to produce a tailorable system to optimize lubricating properties. Our research is providing new understanding of the tribological stability of thin films and offering innovative strategies to fabricate durable, high-performance nanoscale lubricants that are inspired by natural lubrication systems.

Superhydrophobic Surface Coatings Inspired by Nature

Superhydrophobic surfaces, those that cause water droplets to maintain a nearly spherical shape on contact, combine intrinsic hydrophobicity with microscale roughness and have a broad array of potential applications, including self-cleaning surfaces, corrosion resistance, water repellency, and reduced drag. While superhydrophobic surfaces are abundant in Nature, approaches to truly replicate natural surfaces have generally produced hand-held elastomeric materials but not surface coatings. The ability to replicate highly evolved and functional natural surfaces onto a substrate could revolutionize the fabrication of superhydrophobic coatings, leading to unique materials architectures and compositions that fuse the best of the natural and synthetic worlds. We have developed a new method called micromolding surface-initiated polymerization (MSIP) where the growth of a polymer from a surface is confined within the features of a mold to produce a surface coating that replicates a target material. This approach offers a limitless supply of coating topographies through Nature and a near-boundless array of materials compositions through synthetic chemistry that extend well beyond those in Nature, to generate superhydrophobic coatings with novel architectures and structures.

Selected Publications:

C. Escobar, A. Zulkifli, C. J. Faulkner, A. Trzeciak, and G. K. Jennings, "Composite Fluorocarbon Membranes by Surface-Initiated Polymerization from Nanoporous Gold-coated Alumina" ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, 4, 906-915, 2012.

D. Prasai, J. C. Tuberquia, Harl, R. R., G. K. Jennings, and K.I. Bolotin, "Graphene: Corrosion Inhibiting Coating," ACS Nano, 6, 1102-1108, 2012.

G. LeBlanc, G. Chen, G. K. Jennings, and D. Cliffel, "Photoreduction of Catalytic Platinum Particles Using Immobilized Multilayers of Photosystem I," Langmuir, 28, 7952-7956, 2012.

J. L. Rivera, G. K. Jennings, and C. McCabe, "Examining the Frictional Forces Between Mixed Hydrophobic - Hydrophilic Alkylsilane Monolayers," J. Chem. Phys. 136, 244701, 2012.

J. B. Lewis, S. G. Vilt, J. L. Rivera, G. K. Jennings, and C. McCabe, "Frictional Properties of Mixed Fluorocarbon/Hydrocarbon Silane Monolayers: A Simulation Study," Langmuir, 28, 14218-14226, 2012.

B. D. Booth, N. J. Martin, E. A. Buehler, C. McCabe, and G. K. Jennings, "Tribological Characterization of Gradient Monolayer Films from Trichlorosilanes on Silicon," Colloids and Surfaces A: Physicochemical and Engineering Aspects, 47, 57-63, 2012.

G. LeBlanc, G. Chen, E. A. Gizzie, G. K. Jennings, and D. Cliffel, "Enhanced Photocurrents of Photosystem I Films on p-Doped Silicon, Adv. Mater. 24, 5959-5962, 2012.

S. G. Vilt, C. J. Caswell, J. C. Tuberquia, C. McCabe, and G. K. Jennings, "Effect of Roughness on the Microscale Friction of Hydrocarbon Films," J. Phys. Chem. C, 116, 21795-21801, 2012.

X. Yan, C. J. Faulkner, G. K. Jennings, and D. E. Cliffel, "Photosystem I in Langmuir-Blodgett and Langmuir-Schaefer Monolayers," Langmuir, 28, 15080-15086, 2012.

D. Gunther, G. LeBlanc, D. E. Cliffel, and G. K. Jennings, "Pueraria lobata (Kudzu) Photosystem I Improves the Photoelectrochemical Performance of Silicon," Industrial Biotechnology, 9, 37-41, 2013. Featured on the cover.

D. Gunther, G. LeBlanc, D. Prasai, J. Zhang, D. E. Cliffel, and G. K. Jennings, "Photosystem I on Graphene as a Highly Transparent, Photoactive Electrode" Langmuir, 29, 4177-4180, 2013.

J. C. Tuberquia and G. K. Jennings, "Surface Initiation from Adsorbed Polymer Clusters: A Rapid Route to Superhydrophobic Coatings," ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, 5, 2593-2598, 2013.

G. Chen, G. LeBlanc, G. K. Jennings, and D. Cliffel, "Effect of Redox Mediator on the Photo-Induced Current of a Photosystem I Modified Electrode," Journal of the Electrochemical Society, 160, H315-H320, 2013.

G. Chen, F. Hijazi, LeBlanc, G. K. Jennings, and D. Cliffel, "Scanning Electrochemical Microscopy of Multilayer Photosystem I Photoelectrochemistry," ECS Electrochemistry Letters, 2, H59-H62, 2013.

C. A. Escobar, R. Harl, K. Maxwell, N. Mahfuz, B. R. Rogers, and G. K. Jennings, "Amplification of Surface-Initiated Ring-Opening Metathesis Polymerization of 5-(Perfluoro-n-alkyl)norbornenes by Macroinitiation," Langmuir, 29, 12560-12571, 2013.

C. A. Escobar, T. Cooksey, M. Spellings, and G. K. Jennings, "Micromolding Surface-Initiated Polymerization: A Versatile Route for Fabrication of Coatings with Microscale Surface Features of Tunable Height," Adv. Mater. Interfaces, 2014, DOI: 10.1002/admi.201400055.

G. LeBlanc, E. Gizzie, G. K. Jennings, and D. Cliffel, "Integration of Photosystem I with Graphene Oxide for Photocurrent Enhancement," Adv. Energy Mater., 4, 1301953, 2014.

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