Research Interests

My research centers on the interfacial and self-assembling properties of biologically relevant surfactants such as lipids and proteins. We try to understand how the fundamental chemistry and physics of lung surfactant monolayers and bilayers influence their physiological role of lowering surface tension in the human lung. Dysfunction of this system leads to neonatal and adult respiratory distress syndrome, which affects 100,000 people each year, with a 40% mortality rate. We believe that the problem is due to competition between serum proteins and lung surfactants for the interface during the inflammation that accompanies disease. We have built novel two-dimensional shear and dilatational rheometers that we couple to fluorescence imaging techniques to relate interfacial mechanics to composition and morphology. We are showing that the Laplace instability, caused by a lack of dynamic changes in surface tension during breathing, may be responsible for causing lung dysfunction during respiratory distress.

Our second area of interest is creating novel plasmon resonant gold nanostructures that strongly interact with near infrared (NIR) light. NIR is physiologically benign and can transmit through centimeters of tissue which makes it ideal for triggering local biological processes such as disrupting endosomes to release genetic materials to the cell cytoplasm with incredible spatial and temporal control. The laser pulses create cavitation-like nanobubbles around gold nanoparticles that can disrupt endosomes and nearly instantaneously release the desired protein or genetic material directly to the cytoplasm with high viability and efficiency. We are currently developing high throughput methods to create cell-based “drugs” by delivering mRNA to natural killer and T-cells to enhance the immune system response to cancer. The mRNA can code for chimeric antigen receptor proteins that help the immune cells target the cancer, but disappear after the cancer is gone. We create lipid based liposomes to encapsulate and protect the mRNA during endocytosis and delivery, then use the NIR light to generate nanobubbles to rupture the liposomes and endosomes to deliver the mRNA directly to the cytosol at high throughput and with high cell viability.


  • 2014, Editorial Board Member, Biophysical Journal
  • 2013, Avanti Award in Lipids of the Biophysical Society
  • 2011, 3M Harry Heltzer Chair in Multidisciplinary Science and Technology
  • 2009, Fellow of the American Physical Society
  • 2004, American Chemical Society Award in Colloid Science
  • 2001, Professeur Invit', University of Bordeaux and the Centre de Recherche Paul Pascal
  • 2000, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • 1993, Burton Award of the Microscopy Society of America for Best Microscopist under the age of 35
  • 1986, Presidential Young Investigator Award - NSF

Selected Publications

  • M. Ogunyankin, J. E. Shin, D. Lapotko, V. Ferry, J. A. Zasadzinski, Optimizing the NIR Fluence Threshold for Nanobubble Generation by Controlled Synthesis of 10 - 40 nm Hollow Gold Nanoshells. Advanced Functional Materials. 2018:1705272
  • A. K. Sachan, J. A. Zasadzinski. Interfacial Curvature Effects on the Monolayer Morphology and Dynamics of a Clinical Lung Surfactant. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. 2018 115:E134-E143
  • D.Morales, E. N. Morgan, R. Adams, , A. B.Chron, J. E. Shin, J. A. Zasadzinski, and N. Reich, Light-triggered Genome Editing: Cre Recombinase Mediated Gene Editing with Near-Infrared Light. Small. 2018: 1800543
  • K. Y. Kim, S. Choi, J. A. Zasadzinski and T. S. Squires. Non-linear Chiral Rheology of a Phospholipid Bilayer. Soft Matter 2018; 14:2476-2483
  • A. K. Sachan, S. Choi, K. Y. Kim, Q. Tang, L. Hwang, K. Y. Lee,, T. S. Squires and J. A. Zasadzinski. Interfacial Rheology of Coexisting Solid and Fluid Monolayers. Soft Matter 2017; 13: 1481-1492.
  • X. Huang, Q.Hu, G. Braun, A. Pallaoro, D. Morales,J. A. Zasadzinski, D. Clegg, N. Reich. Light-activated RNA interference in human embryonic stem cells. Biomaterials. 2015;63:70-9
  • I. Shieh, J. A. Zasadzinski. Visualizing Monolayers with a water-soluble fluorophore to quantify adsorption, desorption and the double-layer. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015;112:E826-E35
  • Huang X., Pallaoro, A., Braun, G,, Morales, D., Ogunyankin, M., Zasadzinski, J., Reich, N. Modular plasmonic nanocarriers for targeted delivery of therapeutic siRNA. Nano Lett. 2014;14:2046-51
  • K. Kim, S. Q. Choi,T. M. Squires, and J. A. Zasadzinski. Cholesterol Nanodomains: Their Effect on Monolayer Morphology and Dynamics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2013; 110: E3054-E3060
  • E. Y. Lukianova-Hleb, X. Ren, J. A. Zasadzinski, X. Wu, D. O. Lapotko. Plasmonic nanobubbles enhance efficacy and selectivity of chemotherapy against drug-resistant cancer cells. Advanced Materials 2012;24:3831-7
  • B. Wong, C. Boyer, C. Steinbeck, D. Peters, R. van Zanten, B. Chmelka and J. A. Zasadzinski. Design and In Situ Characterization of Lipid Containers with Enhanced Drug Retention.” Advanced Materials 2011; 23: 2320-2325
  • S. Y. Choi, S. Steltenkamp, A. J. Pascall, J. A. Zasadzinski and T. M. Squires. Active Microrheology of Phospholipid Monolayers: Seeing Stretching, Flowing,Yielding and Healing. Nature Communications 2011; 2:312
  • P. Dhar, Y. Cao, T. Fischer and J. A. Zasadzinski, Active Microrheology of Aging Protein Films. Physical Review Letters 2010; 104:016001
  • G. B. Braun, A. Pallaoro, G. Wu, D. Missirlis, J. A. Zasadzinski, M. Tirrell, N. O. Reich. Laser-activated gene silencing via gold nanoshell-siRNA conjugates. ACS Nano. 2009;3:2007–15
Joseph Zasadzinski - Headshot


Phone: 612/626-2957

Office: 380 Amundson Hall

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  • California Institute of Technology, BS 1980
  • Ph.D., Chemical Engineering, University of Minnesota, 1985
  • Postdoctoral Member of the Technical Staff, AT&T Bell Laboratories 1984-1986