• Nijenborgh4, Gebouw 5113, ruimte 0114

    9747 AG Groningen

    Netherlands

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Patrick Onck obtained his PhD (Cum Laude) at Delft University of Technology, followed by a postdoc in the US (Harvard University). He was awarded a prestigious 5-year research fellowship of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), which allowed him to set up an independent research line on multiscale modelling techniques to study structure-property relations of advanced materials. In 2001 he moved to the University of Groningen to start as an assistant professor in the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials. He was promoted to associate professor in 2006, to full professor in 2012 and currently heads the Micromechanics research unit. Onck has a strong track record in developing multiscale computational models that are able to bridge the gap between the atomistic and (supra)molecular length scales. Current focus is on using coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations to uncover the physical mechanisms of a range of biological processes, such as transport through the nuclear pore complex and liquid-liquid phase separation. In addition to curiosity-driven research his work also contributes to resolving the molecular origin of neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., ALS, Huntington’s disease) and cancer, both in collaboration with the UMCG. In a second research line Onck’s work aims at understanding and designing bio-inspired, magneto-responsive soft materials for application in microfluidic systems, lab-on-chip applications and in soft-robotics. Onck published over 130 journal publications and publishes regularly in leading journals such as Nature Materials, PNAS, Science Advances and Nature Communications. He is a member of the Biophysical Society and the editorial boards of Extreme Mechanics Letters and the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

Top Publications

[1] Dekker, M., Van der Giessen, E., Onck, P. R. (2023). Phase separation of intrinsically disordered FG-Nups is driven by highly dynamic FG motifs. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA120(25), [e2221804120]. 

The selective permeability barrier of the nuclear pore complex (NPC) is crucial for the homeostatic functioning of eukaryotic cells. The phase state of this barrier, composed of multiple intrinsically disordered phenylalanine–glycine (FG) repeat proteins, is not known and under intense debate. Here, we show that more than half of the FG-Nups form liquid-like condensates and that the FG motifs are essential in doing so, forming highly dynamic hydrophobic FG–FG cross-links with interaction life times below 1 ns. Furthermore, our findings suggest that the FG-Nups of the NPC can be categorized into two classes: GLFG-Nups that phase separate and FxFG-Nups that do not, suggesting distinct roles in establishing the NPC’s permeability barrier.

[2] J. Ye, L. Liu, J. Oakdale, J. Lefebvre, S. Bhowmick, T. Voisin, J.D. Roehling, W.L. Smith, M.R. Cerón, J. van Ham, L.B.B. Aji, M. Biener, Y. Morris Wang, P.R. Onck*, J. Biener* (2021), Ultra-low-density digitally architected carbon with a strutted tube-in-tube structure, Nature Materials 20 (11), 1498-1505, *Corresponding authors.

In general, the stiffness of materials decreases with decreasing density. In this work, however, we demonstrated that 3D-printed nanotube sandwich structures retain their stiffness at low densities, making it the stiffest ultra-light carbon material to date. Our modelling showed that this unexpected but highly desired behaviour is caused by the presence of nanostruts connecting the inner and outer tubes of the tube-in-tube architecture, establishing a new design platform for future ultralight-but-stiff materials. 

[3] A. Fragasso, H.W. de Vries, J. Andersson, E.O. van der Sluis, E. Van der Giessen, A. Dahlin, P.R. Onck*, C. Dekker* (2021). A designer FG-Nup that reconstitutes the selective transport barrier of the nuclear pore complex. Nature Communications, 12(1), [2010].  *Corresponding authors.

The cell nucleus is the headquarter of a cell, and molecules are constantly moving across its membrane through nuclear pore complexes (NPCs). The transport of these molecules is selective and unexpectedly fast: over 1000 molecules per second constantly move in and out. How these pores do that is not yet understood. Here we constructed designer NPCs with protein sequences created from scratch, showing that simple design rules can recapitulate the essential physical mechanisms of transport.

[4] E. De Jong, Y. Wang, J.M.J. Den Toonder, P.R. Onck (2019), Climbing droplets driven by mechanowetting on transverse waves, Science Advances 5 (6), eaaw0914.

In this work we theoretically discovered and experimentally validated a new technique to transport droplets on inclined (even vertical) surfaces. We termed the method ‘mechanowetting’, as it is based on generating surface tension gradients controlled by mechanically deforming surfaces. Mechanowetting differs drastically from existing methods such as electrowetting and creates the exciting possibility to steer individual droplets by applying external magnetic fields or light, features that are of paramount importance for e.g. inkjet printing and self-cleaning surfaces.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water

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