November, 2016
Changing Views of Evolutionary Factors at Work on Earliest Mammals

UMass Amherst researchers offer new analysis of evolution and biomechanics​

Using 3D-printed replicas of 200-million-year-old mammal teeth and polymers that mimic insect prey, scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst this week provide the first laboratory-tested evidence that the ability for teeth to damage prey is a more significant factor driving evolutionary changes in tooth shape than either bite force or the animal’s energy expenditure.

This unexpected finding should change the way biologists view natural selection as it is studied through dental morphology, the authors say. Tooth shape is linked to diet and the biomechanics of feeding, and much of what is known about early mammalian evolution comes from their fossilized teeth, they point out. Details appear in the current online edition of the British Royal Society journal, Interface.

Evolutionary biology doctoral student Andrew John Conith and his advisor Elizabeth Dumont, with polymer scientists Alfred Crosby and graduate student Michael Imburgia, wanted to better understand how tooth shape influenced diet in early mammals. Dumont and Crosby are both members of the Center for Evolutionary Materials at UMass Amherst, where researchers apply biological thinking to engineering problems.

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November, 2016
New Synthetic ‘Nanoparticle Taxicab’ Materials Can Identify, Collect and Transport Debris on Surfaces

Inspired by proteins that can recognize dangerous microbes and debris, then engulf such material to get rid of it, polymer scientists led by Todd Emrick at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed new polymer-stabilized droplet carriers that can identify and encapsulate nanoparticles for transport in a cell, a kind of “pick up and drop off” service that represents the first successful translation of this biological process in a materials context.

As Emrick explains, “These carriers act as nanoparticle taxicabs. They find particles on one surface, recognize their composition, pick them up and drop them off later on another surface. The work is inspired by the very sophisticated biological/biochemical machinery operating in vivo, found for example in the case of osteoclasts and osteoblasts that work to balance bone density through deposition and depletion of material. We replicated this with much simpler components: oil, water and polyolefins.” Details are now online in Science Advances.

Read Full Story at: UMass Amherst News & Media

November, 2016
Cluster V: Evolutionary Materials Fall Newsletter

Cluster V continues to flourish!  Thanks to the growing support of CUMIRP members, Cluster V continues to grow! This year we not only continue to explore ongoing projects but also are able to fund three new bioinspired seed research projects, host monthly research presentation lunches to encourage multi-directional interactions between interdisciplinary researchers and industry partners, and continue to grow BioInspire! The outreach program piloted last winter with forty 5th graders, has been invited for presentation at the upcoming National Art Education Association conference.

Read more in this newsletter and as always feel free to contact us with any questions or comments—we love hearing from you!

Cluster V Newsletter

October, 2016
UMass Amherst Theorist Proposes New Law to Accurately Measure Charged Macromolecules

For biochemists, measuring the size and diffusion properties of large molecules such as proteins and DNA using dynamic light-scattering techniques and the Stokes-Einstein formula has been mostly straightforward for decades, except for one major snag – it doesn’t work when these macromolecules carry an electric charge.

Now polymer theorist Murugappan Muthukumar at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has derived a solution to the 40-year dilemma, proposing a new theory that is allowing polymer chemists, engineers and biochemists for the first time to successfully apply the Stokes-Einstein law governing situations that involve charged macromolecules. Details appear in the current early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read Full Story at: UMass Amherst News

August, 2016
Hidden Beauties of a Nanoscale World: Images from UMass Polymer Science Research

For 50 years, the Polymer Science and Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has made possible views of such vistas and empowered our understanding of them. The department has since become one of the largest academic centers for polymer research in the world, with more than 200 scientists and students and $40 million in state-of-the-art instrumentation. It has granted more than 500 doctoral degrees to what are now generations of researchers.

The striking images from the VISUAL (Ventures in Science Using Art Laboratory) library, a project of the National Science Foundation’s grant-funded Materials Research Science & Engineering Center (MRSEC) on Polymers, use art as a medium to educate the general public on practical advances in polymer science.

Read full story at: UMass Amherst News

May, 2016
UMass Amherst Department of Polymer Science and Engineering Celebrates 50th Anniversary

The department of polymer science and engineering (PSE), among the elite in the world, is celebrating PSE50, its 50th anniversary, with a two-day reunion and symposium.

Events include presentations on Thursday, May 12 by distinguished graduates—among them astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman and Tisato Kajiyama, in 1969 the program’s first Ph.D. graduate and president of Fukuoka Women’s University in Japan.

Details on the PSE50 Reunion

March, 2016
A New Model for How Twisted Bundles Take Shape

In the current issue of Nature Materials, polymer scientists Greg Grason, Douglas Hall and Isaac Bruss at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with Justin Barone at Virginia Tech, identify for the first time the factors that govern the final morphology of self-assembling chiral filament bundles. They also report experimental results supporting their new model.

At the molecular level, Grason explains, chiral filament bundles are many-stranded, self-twisting, yarn-like structures. One example are amyloid fibers, assemblies of misfolded proteins linked to diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Many other proteins take this shape, including collagen, the most abundant protein in the body, and sickle-hemoglobin proteins found in sickle-cell anemia. But how they attain their final size and shape has not been well understood.

Read full story at: UMass Amherst News Office

February, 2016
New Discovery at UMass Amherst May Lead to More Efficient Solar and Opto-Electronic Devices

Chemists and polymer scientists collaborating at the University of Massachusetts Amherst report in Nature Communications this week that they have for the first time identified an unexpected property in an organic semiconductor molecule that could lead to more efficient and cost-effective materials for use in cell phone and laptop displays, for example, and in opto-electronic devices such as lasers, light-emitting diodes and fiber optic communications.

Physical chemist Michael Barnes and polymer scientist Alejandro Briseño, with doctoral students Sarah Marques, Hilary Thompson, Nicholas Colella and postdoctoral researcher Joelle Labastide, discovered the property, directional intrinsic charge separation, in crystalline nanowires of an organic semiconductor known as 7,8,15,16-tetraazaterrylene (TAT).

Read full story at: UMass Amherst News Office

February, 2016
UMass Amherst Team Offers New, Simpler Law of Complex Wrinkle Patterns

In a new paper, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Oxford University describe a new, more general law for predicting the wavelength of complex wrinkle patterns, including those found on curved surfaces, plus experimental results to support it.

The work is expected to help materials scientists to use wrinkles to sculpt surface topography, or to use the wrinkles on surfaces to infer the properties of the underlying materials such as textiles and biological tissues.

Physicist Narayanan Menon points out that the work is crucial for understanding how wrinkle wavelength depends on properties of the sheet and the underlying liquid or solid. Findings appear this month in an early online issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read full article at: UMass Amherst News Office

January, 2016
Thayumanavan Awarded $40,000 to Develop Nano-Polymer for Drug Delivery

The Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center (MTTC) in late December announced Innovation Commercialization Seed Fund grants of $40,000 each to eight faculty researchers across the UMass system who are developing promising technologies, including Sankaran “Thai” Thayumanavan, chemistry, for a project titled “Versatile nano-polymer platform for therapeutic delivery.”

Read full story at: UMass Amherst News Office