Cristiano L. Dias, PhD, has been appointed to the faculty of NJIT’s College of Science and Liberal Arts an assistant professor in the department of physics. Born in Brazil, he grew up in Mozambique, Germany, Brazil and Canada, where his father worked at Brazilian embassies. He will join the talents of more than 20 other new faculty members on campus this fall. The newcomers will add momentum to NJIT’s strategic plan for making a major impact on the quality of life in the 21st century. This interdisciplinary initiative is focused on three vital areas: convergent life science and engineering, “digital everyware” — ubiquitous computing — and sustainable systems.The women and men joining NJIT to serve a growing student body bring expertise that spans diverse supporting clusters. These include advanced manufacturing, architecture design and construction, big data, biochemistry, business systems, material science and engineering, and sensing and control.
“NJIT’s academic status and interdisciplinary strategy have attracted people at various stages of their careers, and who offer NJIT both distinctive abilities and new resources,” says Provost Ian Gatley. “Enthusiasm for NJIT’s interdisciplinary commitment was apparent during the search process. Everyone interviewed spoke about how the problems they work on are inherently interdisciplinary, how they like to work on teams, how they look forward to collaborating with colleagues across disciplines.” Donald Sebastian, NJIT’s senior vice president for research and development, emphasizes that connecting with real-world issues is at the heart of expectations for a technological research university. “Academic disciplines are the core of the university and the framework for learning. However, their alignment with industries of the future is not as obvious as with those sectors that have prevailed over the last century. Our strategic research thrusts are designed to make those 21st-century connections explicit.” Convergent life science and engineering, digital everyware and sustainable systems — themes that transcend departments or colleges — shaped NJIT’s hiring plan, he adds.
Of his work, Dias says that the rational design of drugs for medical purposes requires a molecular understanding of proteins, which he characterizes as “nature's robots.” His research contributes to this understanding from a computational perspective in which physics meets chemistry, biology, and computer science.
Dias’ multidisciplinary research uses physical models and high performance computing to describe emergent phenomena in molecular biology. His publications include work that has appeared in Physical Review Letters and Nature Nanotechnology.
Dias is working towards an understanding of the microscopic mechanisms that account for protein folding, structure, stability and function. This will be essential to designing proteins with new topologies and specific cellular functions, and in the understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Another aspect of his work involves the study of fluid flow through nano-devices using computer simulations and theory. Inspired by nature's design of membrane proteins, he is investigating mechanisms that produce efficient flow, with the goal of establishing the basis of tomorrow's nano-motors and nano-pumps.
Among Dias’ main research achievements is the development of a model for water that is faster to simulate than detailed atomistic models and reproduces the anomalous properties of this material. He has used this model to study the hydrophobic effect and incorporated results of this study into an implicit water model of peptides for the formation of secondary structures. He has also used the water model to study regelation — the phenomenon of melting under pressure and refreezing when pressure is reduced. A simplified version of the model was applied to explaining why proteins become unstable at low temperatures.
Dias earned a bachelor’s in physics at Universidade de Brasilia, a master’s in the same discipline at Université de Montréal and a PhD degree at McGill University.