Matthew Penna is a Research Associate at RMIT University, using cutting edge MD (Molecular Dynamics) to analyse and understand how to reduce or even prevent fungal growth on building products.

Preventing growth of fungal colonies on building products such as a roof can improve the thermal efficiency of the material, as well as help retain an aesthetically pleasing surface.  Working with BlueScope technologists and scientists, Matt’s research aims to identify factors that prevent fungal growth, and from this, develop design techniques which could be incorporated into the next generation of coatings.

He utilises MD to study the behaviour of fouling-resistant particles and their interaction with biological molecules, such as proteins. If these molecules absorb onto the particles, they can act as a primer layer on which fungal spores can settle leading to the growth of fungal colonies. These particles can become embedded into the surfaces of building products, so developing an understanding of how they interact with proteins is essential for designing effective antifouling coatings.

Through a series of MD simulations, a preliminary antifouling surface design philosophy was developed. This particular research was featured at an international forum, the Faraday Discussion, held in Glasgow in 2016.

In a more recent, progressive development, Matt collaborated with researchers at the University of Wollongong, combining his theoretical modelling with their experimental data to provide a basis for understanding what the next generation of antifouling coating technology might entail.  Using Frequency Modulation-Atomic Force Microscopy and all-atom MD, the multidisciplinary team was able to reveal that suitably spaced, flexible molecular chains with hydrophilic groups could interact with water molecules to produce a confluent layer, consisting of dynamic ligands (molecules) and interfacial water molecules that provide a basis for antifouling performance of ultrathin surface chemistries. This work was recently published in the respected ACS Nano journal.

Matt believes the work the RMIT University team is undertaking can be used to highlight the value of fundamental science in assisting and driving industrial based research. The findings of this research may also have wider reaching implications in the design of coatings for medical implants and devices where the same fundamental physics drive the attachment of fungus or bacteria.