AMHERST, Mass. – The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) today announced that Alfred Crosby, professor of polymer science and engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has been elected a 2014 NAI fellow for demonstrating “a highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.”
Crosby, who joined the UMass Amherst faculty in 2002 and established a research program on nature-inspired materials that has gained a worldwide reputation, has more than a dozen patents awarded or pending and over 100 scientific publications.
Responding to the NAI honor, Crosby says, “I feel privileged to be a part of UMass Amherst, a world-class research institution. From the students, to my colleagues, to the support of the administration, it’s difficult to imagine a better place for doing research and inventing new technologies.”
Overall, he says his lab’s focus is on “gaining fundamental knowledge of structure-property-performance relationships in order to create new materials that can interface with humans on human-size scales.” He organizes the research along four themes: bio-inspired adhesion, polymer surface instabilities, polymer-nanoparticle hybrid assemblies and properties of gels and living tissue.
In perhaps his most high-profile work, Crosby, doctoral students Michael Bartlett, Dan King and postdoctoral researcher Andrew Croll in 2012 invented Geckskin. A gecko-inspired adhesive material composed of soft, natural rubber impregnated into stiff natural fiber fabrics, a Geckskin pad about the size of a human hand is a powerful adhesive that can hold a maximum force of 675 pounds while maintaining easy release. It can be reused and repositioned many times without loss of performance.
Geckskin is the subject of several high-impact publications, patents awarded and pending, and a company, Felsuma, LLC, co-founded by Crosby and biology professor Duncan Irschick in 2013 to commercialize the technology. It enjoyed extensive coverage by the national and international media including recognition by CNN/Money/Fortune Magazine as one of the “5 Breakthrough Technologies of 2012.”
Of his work with gels and living tissue, Crosby says, “To design materials that resemble living, natural soft tissues requires a deep knowledge of their structure-property relationships,” but measuring the mechanical properties of biological tissues at the cellular level in living tissue is “a significant challenge.” His research group has pioneered new methods for quantifying soft tissue mechanical properties in vivo and verified them with many synthetic materials and biological tissues including eye, skin and brain.
The polymer engineer is also investigating surface instabilities such as wrinkling and folding and applying such knowledge to define the structure of synthetic materials to control adhesion, friction, microfluidic flows and optical properties. And, along with fellow polymer science and engineering professor Todd Emrick, who was elected to the NAI in 2013, is investigating new processes for combining self- and directed-assembly of polymer-nanoparticle hybrid assemblies to produce flexible electronics, sensors and membranes.
Crosby will officially receive the award at an NAI fellows’ luncheon and induction ceremony at the academy’s 4th annual conference at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena on March 20, from Andrew Faile, deputy U.S. commissioner for patent operations from the U.S Patent and Trademark Office.