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William Jacobs

William M. Jacobs

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Jacobs Group Website


William M. Jacobs
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
[email protected]
Frick Laboratory, 385


Faculty Assistant:

Katie Finneran
[email protected]
Frick Laboratory, 257

Research Focus

The ability to assemble complex nanoscale structures from a collection of chemical building blocks is one of the essential features of all living systems.  Biology provides many examples of programmable self-assembly, where the spatial organization that emerges is dictated by reversible interactions among a pool of subunits and their environment.  Yet in cases where self-assembly occurs under kinetic or non-equilibrium control, and in systems containing an enormous number of distinct components, our ability to predict emergent structures remains limited.  This gap in our knowledge similarly affects our ability to engineer bio-mimetic materials, where we must solve the inverse problem of designing building blocks to assemble into prescribed structures.

Taking inspiration from biology, our goal is to identify general principles governing the assembly of complex, molecular-scale structures.  We are primarily interested in how two key features of living matter — the heterogeneity of multicomponent systems and the production of entropy by active processes — affect the properties of self-assembled structures.  Our current efforts focus on predicting spatial organization in phase-separating protein/nucleic-acid mixtures and developing non-equilibrium strategies to optimize the assembly of multicomponent nanostructures.  To accomplish these goals, our group uses statistical mechanics, coarse-grained models, and computer simulation methods that probe a broad range of length and time scales.


  • NSF CAREER Award (2021)
  • NIH-Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Fellowship (2016-2018)
  • Gates Cambridge Scholar (2010-2014)
  • NSF Graduate Research Fellow (2010-2014)

Selected Publications

A. Hensley, W.M. Jacobs, and W.B. Rogers, “Self-assembly of photonic crystals by controlling the nucleation and growth of DNA-coated colloids,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 119, e2114050118 (2022).

W.M. Jacobs, “Self-assembly of biomolecular condensates with shared components,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 126, 258101 (2021).

D.W. Sanders, …, W.M. Jacobs, P. Ivanov, and C.P. Brangwynne, “Competing protein-RNA interaction networks control multiphase intracellular organization,” Cell 181, 306–324 (2020).

W.M. Jacobs and E.I. Shakhnovich, “Evidence of evolutionary selection for co-translational folding,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 114, 11434–11439 (2017).

W.M. Jacobs and D. Frenkel, “Phase transitions in biological systems with many components,” Biophys. J. 112, 683–691 (2017).

W.M. Jacobs and D. Frenkel, “Self-assembly of structures with addressable complexity,” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 138, 2457–2467 (2016).

W.M. Jacobs, A. Reinhardt, and D. Frenkel, “Rational design of self-assembly pathways for complex multicomponent structures,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 112, 6313–6318 (2015).