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Multifunctional Nanostructured Materials for Processing of Biomass

Students will work on a project aimed to prepare smart nanodevices for catalyzing sequences of chemical reactions to convert biomass into biorenewable fuels and chemical commodities. The nanostructured materials will be composed of organic and inorganic species that will work cooperatively to effectively promote chemical conversions behaving like nanosized assembly lines. The students will be trained in the synthesis and characterization of hybrid mesoporous materials.

Polymer-like Nanowires

Polymers owe much of their utility to their flexibility and morphology. For a long time it was thought that crystals could never replicate those properties because of their relative rigidity. We discovered a class of nanowires that challenges this belief and that shows polymer-like morphology and growth kinetic. It is the first example of a crystal that showcases the unique properties of polymer molecules.


Roots are essential to the growth and survival of a plant. They determine its resistance to stresses, droughts, and to soil erosion. Nonetheless, our ability to study them in their natural environment are limited by the complexity and opacity of soil. On the other hand, growing plants in transparent gels is a very poor mimic of the conditions that the plant finds in soil.


The properties of crystals are strongly dependent on their microstructure. For example, their strength, their conductivity, and their ability to capture sunlight depend strongly on the size and shape of the crystalline grains within them. Our control of microstructure (and our understanding of its influence on properties) is still far from optimal.

Neuroregenerative and Neurorepair Strategies

This highly interdisciplinary project seeks to develop approaches to facilitate repair and regeneration of the damaged nervous system. We will use a combination of biomaterials in the form of polymer conduits and/or scaffolds, adult stem cells seeded on the biomaterials, and use of physical, chemical, biological and/or electrical cues to orient cell growth, control stem cell differentiation and facilitate neuroregeneration using in vitro models.

Using Aptamers in Environmental Research

Aptamers are small nucleic acids that can be used in medical applications and as means of detecting specific molecules.  This is because these nucleic acids behave like antibodies and recognize specific molecules.  Aptamers can also function in the body either outside or inside cells.  We are developing the use of aptamers to increase the effectiveness of anticancer and other drugs for medical treatment and to image cells like stem cells.  We are also using aptamers to develop new monitoring methods for drugs of abuse and to monitor toxins in the environment.

Organic light-emitting diodes

There are two areas of organic electronics that are of interest through modeling and simulation. The first area involves organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs), and a critical problem is that that a large fraction of light -more than 80%- is trapped and lost inside the high refractive index layers within the OLED.  We will consider various ways to design textured internal and textured external surfaces of the OLEDS that can extract this trapped light. We will use rigorous electromagnetic and photonic simulations for the modeling.

High Power Density Microbial Fuel Cells on a Chip

Miniature microbial fuel cells have recently drawn lots of attention as portable power generation devices due to their short startup time and environmentally-friendly process which could be used for powering small integrated biosensors. We aim to design and fabricate a microbial fuel cell in a microfluidic platform and integrate it with lab-on-a-chip devices and MEMS. Our approach is to make the device using polydimethylsi-loxane with a chamber volume of as low as 4 μL, and ultra-thin catalyst-electrodes based on functional soft materials.

A Microfluidic Microbial Fuel Cell as a Biochemical Oxygen Demand Sensor

Bioelectrochemical systems (BES) have recently emerged as a central technology in an attempt to produce electricity. In a BES, bacteria interact with electrodes using electrons, which are either removed or supplied through an electrical circuit. The most recognized type of BES is microbial fuel cells (MFCs), in which useful power is generated from electron donors as, for example, present in wastewater.


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