Advanced Materials

Abstract illustration of cells and biological chain

Working at the molecular level to understand fundamental molecular structures, CBIS researchers are looking at ways to revolutionize the way we produce and use materials with minimal environmental impact. Our scientists are conducting foundational investigations, such as engineering structural matrices, synthetic membrane materials and processes for their creation, identifying the best chemicals and biocatalysts to synthesize next-generation health solutions, engineering peptides as novel drugs and carriers, and synthesizing silk-inspired macromolecules.

Current Research

Georges Belfort, Institute Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Member, National Academy of Engineering, Chemical and Biological Engineering

Professor Belfort is one of the premier academic scientists and engineers in the field of bioseparations engineering and is a leading academic chemical engineer in liquid-phase pressure-driven membrane-based processes. He has made seminal wide-ranging fundamental and applied research contributions to the understanding, design, and application of pressure-driven membrane processes for the recovery of biological molecules. His research, both fundamental and developmental, is conducted in the areas of membrane-separations engineering and surface science and the behavior of proteins at interfaces.

In particular, the research involves design of new membrane modules with highly efficient mass-transfer characteristics, modification of membrane surfaces for reduced fouling, and use of genetic engineering as a tool in the separation of biological molecules. Direct measurements are also made of intermolecular forces between proteins and polymeric films for application in separations and marine fouling.

Recent interest has focused on the effect of solid substrates on the conformation of proteins, the development of a new molecular two-dimensional imprinting technique, the use of helical hollow fiber membranes to fractionate foreign immunoglobulins from transgenic goat milk, and the modification new polymeric surfaces for synthetic membranes using photo-induced polymerization that exhibit low attraction to proteins (biotechnology applications), and natural organic matter (environmental applications).

Richard Gross, Professor, Constellation Chair, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

Professor Gross’ research is motivated by the urgent need to develop sustainable chemicals and materials to meet the demands of a rapidly rising global population while mitigating risks of increased green-house gas emissions associated with climate change. Professor Gross is focusing the group's inventiveness on research that has the potential to revolutionize the way we synthesize next-generation chemicals and materials, as well as improve human health. For this purpose, the group is combining the best chemical and biocatalysts to develop efficient green routes to low molar mass molecules, polymers, and materials.

He is also applying green chemistry principles to develop next-generation therapeutics. For this, we look to nature for tailorable bioactives and use a variety of tools to create matrices for tissue engineering and bioresorbable biomaterials. The result of his team’s emphasis on implementing green chemical principles is the development of synthetic routes that operate under mild reaction conditions (e.g., low temperature, ambient pressure, avoid toxic reagents) that increase worker safety, improve reaction efficiencies (i.e., atom economy) while avoiding protection-deprotection steps. This increases the chance of developing solutions that will be scalable and used. 

Pankaj Karande, Associate Professor, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Chemical and Biological Engineering

Professor Karande’s research program is focused on engineering peptides as novel drugs, drug carriers, affinity agents, and multifunctional biomaterials for medical applications. Peptides play vital roles in various biological functions including membrane assembly, cell regulation, and immunity. Inspired by their roles in physiological processes, the Karande Lab is evaluating the potential of short peptide sequences as therapeutics for cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, immune disorders, and as sub-unit vaccines against infectious diseases.

Gaetano T. Montelione, Professor, Constellation Chair Chemistry and Chemical Biology

Professor Montelione is an internationally recognized expert in structural genomics and protein NMR spectroscopy whose notable work includes elucidation of critical protein-protein interactions in cancer biology, and his key discoveries about the structure-function relationships of NS1 protein that form the basis for the use of live attenuated influenza vaccines in humans. For more than 16 years, he built and served as director of the NIH NIGMS Center for Structural Genomics at Rutgers.


Helen Zha, Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biological Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering

Many materials in nature are able to exhibit amazing, often paradoxical properties, in large part due to their chemical structure and composition. Importantly, the molecular level features of these materials “program” the assembly of structures, from nano to macroscopic-length scales, resulting in functions not commonly observed in conventional man-made materials. Professor Zhas research aims to create new materials using molecular building blocks inspired by or derived from nature in order to mimic the desirable attributes found in natural materials. Her work utilizes a wide range of covalent and non-covalent chemistries to build these materials with molecular level precision. Her research also studies the inter- and intra-molecular interactions of naturally derived and biomimetic macromolecules in controlled environments to reveal fundamental rules governing their behavior. The results of Professor Zhas work are leveraged toward developing new technologies to meet the materials needs of our advancing society. For example, the materials innovations developed by Professor Zha’s team can potentially lead to improvements in regenerative medicine and drug delivery, decrease the cost of drug development, and reduce recalcitrant plastic waste in the environment.


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