The rapid advances in biotechnology that are fueling significant change in medicine and agriculture have also become a major force in the chemical and materials industries. These new discoveries are allowing researchers to create and process materials that in turn provide better tools for molecular biology.

The Institute provides an umbrella for the creation of these new technologies and tools through an integrated approach to solving problems and driving advances. In the newly developing area of biomaterials, scientists from a variety of disciplines including materials science and engineering, chemistry and biology come together in new and diverse ways to produce innovative biomaterials for medical materials, pharmaceutical, and bio-electronic applications. Current areas of research include:

  • Biosurface modifications to promote or prevent protein absorption
  • Rapid separation and sensing of proteins
  • Cell and tissue engineering
  • Synthesis of new peptide and protein architectures that change conformation as a function of pH and temperature
  • Integrated “lab-on-a-chip” devices for high-throughput screening and directed molecular evolution of enzymes
  • Bio-optoelectronics research, which brings optoelectronics and biology together to create next-generation “smart” fiber optics, biosensors and DNA-based transistors.

Dr. John Rabolt, Chair of the University of Delaware’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE), is currently using electrostatic forces to control the shape of polymers and protein polymers to create nanofibers and nanowebs. To do this he and his research group use an electronic spider than spins its own web mimicking the process used by spiders found in nature. The new shapes and morphologies produced by this electrospinning process are currently under study for use as tissue scaffolds (in collaboration with Dr. Mary Farach-Carson and Dr. Dan Carson of the Biology Department) and hence are being investigated to see how cells respond, grow and proliferate within them.

A veteran researcher who spent over 20 years in the IBM Research Division and also served as Co-Director of the National Science Foundation’s Center on Polymer Interfaces and Macromolecular Assemblies at Stanford University, Dr. Rabolt understands the importance of both scientific discovery and the application of science to industry. He feels that DBI plays a critical role in bringing talented researchers together to share ideas and by providing a “world-class” infrastructure and resources for carrying out biomaterials research.

Among them is MSE member Dr. Kristi Kiick, who is designing macromolecules capable of recognizing and interacting with cellular targets and also is synthesizing genetically engineered materials to use in implants or as tissue scaffolds. These materials can be used to promote or mediate cell growth in a variety of ways, reducing inflammation and the growth of malignant tissue. Dr. Kiick has also worked with Dr. Mary Galvin, a member of the MSE Department, and a world-renowned researcher in electronic materials, to use protein polymers as a template for designing a new class of electroluminescent polymers for use in future “plastic” computer displays.

Another member of MSE, Dr. Darrin Pochan, explores the rules that govern molecular design and self-assembly of unique polymeric and organic-inorganic hybrid materials. Taking advantage of the new cell-culturing lab at DBI, Dr. Pochan tests the biological, cell and tissue level properties of materials constructed for uses such as tissue engineering. In other collaborative work with Dr. Joel Schneider from the Department of Chemistry, new synthetic approaches to creating model peptides may enable pharmaceuticals to be activated by environmental cues at their delivery target in a specific organ or malignancy, minimizing the potential damage and waste caused by widespread dissemination in the body.


Funding for this research is made possible by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Army Research Office and the Delaware Research Partnership (DRP).