Texas Tech University

Chemistry Faculty Member Studying Molecules That Build Themselves

Glenys Young

July 10, 2019

Anthony Cozzolino received a five-year National Science Foundation CAREER Award to further his research.

Imagine picking up a box of LEGOs, shaking it and watching as the bricks assemble themselves, creating the object they're supposed to comprise.


That's what Texas Tech University's Anthony Cozzolino is doing – but with molecules. He's being recognized for it with one of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) most prestigious awards.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a foundation-wide activity that offers the NSF's most prestigious awards in support of the early career-development activities of teacher-scholars who effectively integrate research and education within the mission of their organization and build a firm foundation for a lifetime of scholarly contributions.


Cozzolino, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, recently received a five-year, $655,710 CAREER Award to further his research into the design and synthesis of molecules containing the elements antimony and bismuth.

"We design these for molecular recognition, the ability of these molecules to specifically recognize other molecules in solution and self-assemble into more complex structures," he said. "We design different pieces so they will fit together in a specific way to make something more complex, but they do it on their own."

Nature does this all the time using hydrogen bonds, Cozzolino said, but he's exploring a new type of interaction, called a pnictogen bond, using the heavy p-block elements antimony and bismuth instead of hydrogen. This allows them to target unique properties.


"We design the molecules to recognize anions, like the toxic cyanide anion or drug molecules that contain carboxylates; to self-assemble into molecular capsules; and even to form bilayer vesicles that can be the basis for artificial cells or drug delivery systems," he said.

"There are lots of exciting directions this research may take, but we are at the initial exploration and discovery stage. We are probing the utility and limitations of this new class of supramolecular interactions."