UMass Amherst to Lead $3.2 Million Study on Bio-Materials for Department of Defense

AMHERST, Mass. - The University of Massachusetts Amherst has been awarded a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant from the Department of Defense for work at the intersection of polymer science, biology, and nanotechnology. The $3.2 million grant teams UMass with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of South Carolina in a three-year study that will examine how self-assembly processes in both man-made materials and in proteins and viruses can interact and lay the foundation for new genetically-engineered bio-materials. Two additional years of funding are possible, for a potential total award of $5.3 million.

This research is anticipated to lead ultimately to a new generation of materials that can be genetically engineered by means of their incorporated proteins but which will exhibit the processing characteristics of engineered polymers. Such engineered bio-materials may be useful in sensors, biomedical devices, biomolecular electronics, drug delivery systems and self-assembling addressable storage media. The project will investigate how self-assembly processes in both engineered nanomaterials and in life forms such as proteins and viruses can mutually affect each other when they are chemically coupled or embedded in one another. The resulting hybrid materials are expected to have novel properties and potential uses in a variety of applications.

"By understanding the details of how nature enables molecules to self-assemble simultaneously with synthetic materials, we are beginning to grasp new ways to couple the two processes to produce new classes of materials to work with," said Thomas Russell, professor of polymer science and engineering and principal investigator on the grant. He says this project is an example of how the physical sciences and the life sciences are converging through nanotechnology approaches that promise to transform the way materials and products are designed and made in the future.

The UMass project is one of 31 selected nationally by the Pentagon out of 116 proposals for funding under the MURI program. The program is designed to address large multidisciplinary topic areas representing exceptional opportunities for future DoD applications and technology options. MURI grants provide long-term support for research, graduate students and laboratory instrumentation development aligned with science and engineering research themes vital to national defense.

In addition to Russell, other UMass researchers involved with the project are Todd Emrick and Gregory Tew, also professors from polymer science and engineering. The project will involve collaboration among the three universities, federal laboratories, the Scripps Institute, and IBM’s Almaden Research Center. Russell is also director of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at UMass, and associate director of MassNanoTech, UMass Amherst’s center for nanoscale research, education, process prototyping and technology transfer.

For further information, contact Thomas Russell at 413/545-2680 or russell@mail.pse.umass.edu.