What we do


Nobel Laureate Wolfgang Pauli once said: “God created the bulk; the devil invented surfaces”. Our group is fascinated by chemistry happening at the interface. Surfaces or interfaces are integral parts of heterogeneous systems. It is the outermost layer of molecules or atoms in a medium or in between two media. The physical, electronic, and optical properties of interfaces or molecules at the interface are markedly different than that of the bulk medium because of the inherent asymmetry present at the interface. Because of this, many interesting and important chemical and physiological processes occur at surfaces or interfaces. Ions, enzymes, or protein transport through the cell membrane, adsorption-desorption and transport of molecules at chromatographic surfaces during separations, absorption-desorption of atmospheric gases and particles in clouds, heterogeneous catalysis are only a few of the examples where surfaces play a key role. In going from bulk to the surface, symmetry is broken which makes the surface heterogeneous and more reactive than the bulk.


The Dutta research lab uses various spectroscopy, and microscopy methods to investigate the nanoscale physical properties of molecules at interfaces to address some of the crucial problems of our time in analytical, environmental, and materials chemistry. Our main interests are to understand mass transport dynamics, biomolecule-surface interactions in complex environments, and molecular orientation at interfaces.

Currently, we are working on the following projects.

Environmental & Analytical Sciences:

Plastic pollution is a global concern and it is evident from recent literature that micron and nano-sized plastic materials are present almost everywhere. It is challenging to quantify how much plastic is present in the environment and how these tiny particles can affect our lives. Recent studies suggest that microplastics (size ~1-10 microns) can influence marine organisms in various ways. As nanoplastics (size < 1 micron) have a higher surface-to-volume ratio, nanoplastics can have more detrimental effects on living systems. As nanoplastics could be heterogeneous both in their chemical and morphological properties, quantification of specific effects is necessary to understand system-specific effects on living systems. We will use our knowledge of basic physical chemistry to understand the physicochemical behavior of nanoplastics at various model systems. We aim to understand the nanoscale transport of nanoplastics and the molecular orientation of various surface-bound molecules in response to nanoplastics at various interfaces and complex environments.


Nanoscale transport of ions and molecules is important in many different fields, like drug delivery, molecular sensing, separations, and catalysis. E.g., in drug delivery applications different types of drugs (small molecule drugs or protein therapeutics) are transported to specific target locations, or in separations differential nanoscale molecular interaction leads to separations of analytes. We will use our expertise in single-particle (molecule) tracking and superresolution microscopy to understand transport in various materials systems (natural and engineered polymers).

Experimental methods