Welcome to the Schiffman Lab @ the University of Massachusetts Amherst!

We are a diverse and imaginative team that innovates “green” bioinspired materials to tackle grand challenges in human health. Our research is interdisciplinary in nature, drawing influences from chemical engineering, materials science, and microbiology. We have two synergistic research thrusts that enable us to design next-generation materials for a range of biomedical, environmental, and industrial applications.

Thrust 1. Establishing, understanding, and controlling microbial interactions with materials. We bring an excellent understanding of materials science and mechanics to the world of microbiology and merged these disciplines with genome engineering. We established that bacteria can “sense” the physical properties of a biomaterial (Young’s modulus, viscoelasticity, thickness) and that these properties alter microbial attachment behavior. This work addresses the grand challenge humanity faces as microorganisms continue to gain tolerance to commercial antibiotics. In the U.S. alone, antimicrobial tolerance causes >2 million infections and 23,000 deaths per year.

Thrust 2. Synthesizing materials using green chemistry and bioinspiration. We look to nature to unveil creative ways to reduce our dependence on petroleum-derived polymers, organic solvents, and commercial antibiotics. Examples of our patented materials include, antibacterial nanofiber wound dressings made from crab shells and cinnamon, resilient antifouling coatings produced using an all-aqueous method, and antifouling membranes used for water purification inspired by the pitcher plant.

Taking both thrusts synergistically, we are developing translational materials that (i) deliver biologically-derived antimicrobials that do not encourage resistance genes, (ii) delay microbes from sticking to surfaces using structure-property relationships, and (iii) intelligently combine chemical and mechanical approaches to maximize biological activity.

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