Robert Levenson

Robert Levenson, PhD

Faculty - Full-Time
Headshot of Robert Levenson
Assistant Professor of Biochemistry

My research focuses on understanding the molecular principles behind how proteins and other biological molecules assemble to form intricate structures and accomplish their adaptive functions. The systems I have worked on, ranging from self-repairing bacterial rotary motors to flexible iridescent nanostructures within the skin cells of squid and octopuses, reflects the diversity of functions for which life has used proteins. I am also interested in understanding the mechanisms by which protein assembly sometimes goes wrong, a phenomenon at the heart of many diseases. Lastly, I seek to leverage newfound discoveries to design and construct novel engineered nano- and microscale structures and biocatalysts.

I enjoy closely working with undergraduates in my research and have had multiple undergraduate coauthors on peer-reviewed publications. I encourage my students to develop not just conceptual knowledge and technical skills in the life sciences, but to also continue their growth and development as intellectually independent thinkers. I am an avid fan of the act of learning, and this passion constantly informs my performance as a teacher. I believe in the power of relentless curiosity and intellectual growth to improve the human condition, and I strive to empower these virtues in students in the laboratory and classroom.

When not teaching and learning about the life sciences, I enjoy spending time with my family and being outdoors.

  • General Chemistry II (CHEM 141
  • Design of Chimeric Proteins (BIO 299)
  • Integrated Biology & Chemistry (IBC 200)
  • SARS-CoV-2: From Molecular to Global (Learning Cluster)
  • Foundations of Chemistry (CHEM 150)
  • Genetic Engineering (Learning Cluster)
  • Drug Design (CHEM 314)
  • Protein structure and assembly, especially in large nano- and microscale molecular machines.
  • Tunable condensation and phase transition of biological molecules, particularly liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS).
  • Molecular basis of protein aggregation and misfolding (proteopathies).
  • Protein biotechnology, particularly the design and construction of protein-based assemblies & biocatalysts.
  • Song, J., Levenson, R.H., Santos, J., Velazquez, L., Zhang, F., Fygenson, D., Wu, W., and D.E. Morse. 2020. Reflectin Proteins Facilitate in vitro Agglomeration, Fusion, and Tubulation of Synthetic Phospholipid Vesicles. Langmuir Co-first authorship 
  • Levenson, R.H., Bracken, C., Sharma, C., Santos, J., Arata, C., Malady, B., and D.E. Morse. 2019. Calibration between trigger and color: Neutralization of a genetically encoded Coulombic switch and dynamic arrest precisely tune reflectin assembly. Journal of Biological Chemistry. DOI: 10.1074/jbc.RA119.010339 
  • Levenson, R.H., Demartini, D.G., and D.E. Morse. Molecular Mechanism of Reflectin’s Tunable Biophotonic Control: Opportunities and Limitations for New Optoelectronics. 2017. APL Materials 5: 104801. 
  • Lynch, M.J., Levenson, R.H., Kim, E.A., Sircar R, Blaire, D.F., Dahlquist, F.W., and B. Crane. 2017. Co-Folding of a FliF-FliG Split Domain Forms the Basis of the MS:C Ring Interface within the Bacterial Flagellar Motor. Structure 25: 317-328   
  • Levenson, R.H, Bracken, C., Bush, N., and D.E. Morse. 2016. Cyclable Condensation and Hierarchical Assembly of Metastable Reflectin Proteins, the Drivers of Tunable Biophotonics. 2016. Journal of Biological Chemistry 291: 4058-4068
  • Levenson, R.H., Zhou, H and F.W. Dahlquist. Structural insights into the interaction between the bacterial flagellar motor proteins FliF and FliG. 2012. Biochemistry 51: 5052-5060
  • 2020-present: Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, Soka University of America, Life Sciences Concentration
  • 2016-2020: Assistant Project Scientist, University of California, Santa Barbara, Institute of Collaborative Biotechnologies
  • National Science Foundation Award # 2233670. $293,310. PI. BRC-BIO: Harnessing sequence features to understand and manipulate the function of reflectin proteins in iridescence, 2023
  • ASBMB travel award, 2018 & 2020
  • ACS Division of Biological Chemistry travel award, 2017