Purdue researcher to discuss how nature helps develop biomedical materials

October 24, 2012  

John Wilker

John Wilker
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A Purdue University researcher examining the fascinating way that marine biology is helping design, develop and create new biomedical materials will be the next Science on Tap speaker on Nov. 8.

Jonathan Wilker, a professor of chemistry and materials engineering, will speak on "Biomaterials at the Beach: Learning How Marine Biology Makes Materials" at 6 p.m. in the upstairs of the Lafayette Brewing Company, 622 Main St., Lafayette.

The Purdue Department of Chemistry, School of Materials Engineering and Discovery Park are sponsoring the event, which is free and open to those 21 and older.

"The oceans are filled with a fascinating array of biological materials. The adhesives and cements of mussels, barnacles, oysters, starfish, limpets, sea weeds, tube worms, sea cucumbers and anemones are familiar to anyone who has ever explored a tide pool," Wilker said.

"We will discuss why these creatures make glues and what we are doing in the lab to understand the origin of such materials. As we learn the secrets of marine bioadhesives, we are using this information to design new synthetic materials."

Some new polymer systems can bond more strongly than commercial Super Glue and also adhere well underwater, Wilker said. One of the greatest challenges in adhesion is the development of surgical glues that are simultaneously wet setting, nontoxic and strong bonding.

Wilker, who has been at Purdue since 1999, is looking at the array of materials produced by nature, specifically in the oceans, to understand how such biological materials function, design synthetic mimics and develop applications for these materials.

Leading a lab that draws from biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, polymer chemistry, marine biology and materials engineering, Wilker points to how barnacles cement themselves to rocks, mussels attach to each other in communities and oysters aggregate to build reef structures.

Wilker received his doctorate degree in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1996 and a bachelor's degree in chemistry from University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He gained an appointment as a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry from 1996-99 at the California Institute of Technology.

Wilker received the College of Science Outstanding Teacher Award and the Arthur Kelly Outstanding Teacher Award from the Department of Chemistry, both in 2011. He also was cited as one of the 10 best teachers in the College of Science in 2008.

The Science on Tap lecture series, led by Purdue graduate students Patrick Dolan, Shaili Sharma and Becca Scott, provides Purdue faculty and collaborating researchers the opportunity to share research activities in an informal setting and in a way designed to appeal to a more general audience.

Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program's first two years.

Writer: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133, pfiorini@purdue.edu

Sources: Jonathan Wilker, 765-496-3382, wilker@purdue.edu

Patrick Dolan, 765-496-9336, pdolan@purdue.edu

Becca Scott, scott116@purdue.edu

Related website:
Wilker Research Group

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