UMass Amherst Polymer Scientist Wins International Research Award

Polymer scientist Alfred Crosby
Alfred Crosby

AMHERST, Mass. – Polymer scientist Alfred Crosby at UMass Amherst is part of a team that recently received a highly competitive three-year, $1 million grant from the France-based Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP), which supports teams of scientists from different countries.

Crosby and two others will each receive $350,000 over the three years to explore “universal surface patterning mechanisms in plants and animals,” which refers to how the development and growth of tall and narrow nanoscale wrinkles in plants and animals may be related for all living organisms.

Crosby will collaborate with plant scientist and team leader Beverley Glover at the University of Cambridge, U.K., and evolutionary and developmental biologist Michel Milinkovitch of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, an expert in mechanisms underlying life’s complexity and diversity. Together they will experimentally study the roles of materials properties and other factors on the growth of wrinkle patterns in both plants and animals. 

Glover will focus on measuring patterns on flowers, Milinkovitch will focus on emergent topography in an animal model and Crosby will develop synthetic physical models to help relate and understand the findings from Glover and Milinkovich. 

They hope to develop new models that can describe how frictional properties and surface patterns, which play a large role in the display of color, grow and are influenced by both internal and external constraints.

Crosby says, “What an honor it is to receive this and how exciting to work with top scientists in the U.K. and Switzerland to discover new knowledge about possible links in growth mechanisms in both plants and animals and to think about how this new knowledge can help inform the development of bio-inspired materials.”

The International Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO) is awarding some $30 million to support the top 3 percent of grant applications it receives. Organizers say the 30 winning teams of the 2017 competition for its research grants went through a rigorous year-long selection process in a global competition that started with a record 1,073 submissions in more than 60 countries.

HFSP’s collaborative research grants support a broad range of projects with the theme, “complex mechanisms of living organisms,” including particular emphasis on cutting-edge, risky projects. The HFSP grant program is the only international program that encourages bottom-up applications from teams worldwide, says Warwick Anderson, HFSPO secretary general.

He emphasizes that “international collaboration in frontier research stands out as a driving force for breakthroughs across the entire life sciences and even beyond which will ultimately turn into benefits for mankind.”

In 2012, Crosby and Duncan Irschick, with Walter Federle of the University of Cambridge, U.K., received an HFSP research grant to investigate anatomy and physical mechanisms in animals including geckos who climb smooth surfaces. This research was directly inspired by the theories and principles that were used to develop the new, reusable and very powerful adhesive technology called Geckskin.

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