MSE Innovation Grants

The idea behind BU MSE Innovation Grants Program is to create a low overhead way of encouraging innovation and risk taking in a national funding environment that makes this increasingly difficult. Each year we will be awarding roughly five awards of approximately $10k each. Any faculty member (any rank) in the extended BU MSE community is eligible for the award. It is a one time, non-recurring award that can be used for equipment, salary for a student or post doc, travel by a BU person to another location, travel by someone else to BU or any other legitimate research expense. The idea is to enable real innovations to take place and encourage far out thinking.

2017 BU MSE Innovation Grant Winners:

XiLing2Xi Ling (Chemistry, MSE)

Chemical Vapor Deposition of Two-dimensional Boron Monolayer and Heterostructures

Two-dimensional (2D) boron joined the family of 2D materials recently, and attracted much attention in a short time. There are many boron polymorphs with different properties from metal to semiconductor. Among them, g phase 2D boron monolayer shows semiconducting properties with direct band gap at about 2.25 eV, which indicates that it has giant potential in optoelectronic devices. Also, the stability in air and anisotropic structures make it more applicable for multifunctional devices. However, obtaining the high quality and large-area 2D boron monolayer is still in the early stage. Here, I propose to use multi-zone chemical vapor deposition method to synthesize the 2D boron monolayer crystal and potentially hybrid it with other 2D materials developing in our lab to form the heterostructures. The successful growth of the 2D boron will open the door for the properties and applications exploration, and facilitate the collaboration with other colleagues at BU in the future.

BansilRama Bansil (Physics, MSE)

Microfluidic Studies of Bacteria Chemotaxis in Viscoelastic Polymer Solutions and Gels

Many bacteria move through highly viscous environments to reach their colonization niche. In particular, we focus on the gastric ulcer and cancer causing bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which moves across the viscolealstic, gel-like mucus layer in the stomach to colonize on the epithelial cell surface lining the stomach wall. We have examined the swimming behavior of these helical-shaped bacteria by using video optical microscopic to track them in various solutions and gels. The innovation project goes a step further by using microfluidic approaches to mimic the physiological situation where the bacterium directs its motion from the cavity of the stomach towards the epithelial cell surface, using gradients in concentration of chemicals such as urea and gastric juice secreted by the stomach glands. These studies will help us understand not only how bacteria swim in response to chemical gradients, but also how they in turn influence the rheological properties of their host medium to create a unique, locally structured environment best suited for their own survival.

ME.Faculty.Chuanhua-Duan-2011Chuanhua Duan (ME, MSE)

Rapid and Scalable Patterning of Conjugated Polymer Thin Films With Controlled Morphology

Conjugated polymers (CPs) are organic macromolecules that are characterized by a backbone chain of alternating double- and single- bonds. Because of their high solution processability and excellent semiconductor properties, CPs, especially in their thin film forms, have found various promising applications in electronics, photonics and photovoltaics. Further development of CB-based technologies requires addressing two critical manufacturing challenges of CP thin films: 1) accurate control of CP thin film morphology including molecular conformation and inter-chain structure; 2) rapid formation of patterned CP thin films with high spatial resolution and controlled thickness. Since these two challenges cannot be simultaneously resolved by existing manufacturing methods, we propose to prepare patterned CP thin films using a new technique titled pervaporation-assisted molding in nanofluidic channels. In this technique, polymer solution will be introduced into nanochannel molds that are temporarily bonded to the device substrates. Pervaporation will be employed on the sidewall of the nanochannels to rapidly remove solvent and promote thin film self-assembly with controlled morphology along the nanochannels. We will systematically investigate the speed, morphology control and scalability of this new technique. Success of this proposed research would result in an ideal manufacturing technique for thin film formation and patterning, which will not only boost CP-based organic electronics and photonics, but will also advance other emerging applications involved with patterned polymer/nanoparticle thin films.

Holmes4X5-240x300-240x300 (1)Douglas Holmes (ME, MSE)

Morphing and Growth of Soft Structures

Soft and thin structures can dramatically deform in response to small amounts of external force, and controlling these deformations has been the focus of significant research efforts among physicists, biologists, and engineers in the last decade. The ability to produce a generic structure that can be morphed into a desired shape has important implications for a wide array of industries, ranging from hierarchical manufacturing to deployable structures and actively morphing wings. By tailoring the swelling and growth of soft materials, we aim to create deformable structures that can be reconfigured into a desired shape by altering their local geometry with various stimuli, e.g. chemical, electrical, thermal. We have demonstrated the controlled morphing of sheets into shells by using a novel approach of residual swelling, where rubber plates are prepared with a localized excess of free monomer chains. The diffusion of this residual solvent locally stretches and shrinks the sheet causing it to morph into a 3D shape. The resulting structure is a geometric composite – it combines different intrinsic geometries within a material to produce shapes that differ from their individual components. With this research endeavor, we will study and quantify the connection between geometry and the resulting structural and dynamical instabilities of geometric composites. This mechanistic understanding is necessary to develop technological pathways for advanced, active structures that operate in complex environments, and will provide fundamental insights into the connection of geometry and topology for morphing and design of multifunctional soft materials.

Professor Alice E. White (ME, MSE)Alice White (ME, MSE) and Ren Zhang (ME)

Dynamic 3D Scaffolds for Tissue Engineering

In vivo, cells are in a dynamic 3D environment with biochemical and physical cues. The physical properties (i.e., mechanical stiffness, topography) of the extracellular matrix play an important role for cell migration, proliferation and differentiation. However, it is challenging to create a cell culture environment with tunable mechanical properties and dynamic actuation capability for more physiologically relevant in vitro model development. We propose to fabricate cell scaffolds through direct laser writing (DLW) based on two-photon polymerization (TPP) in flexible hydrogels, which will be subsequently coated with a thin biocompatible metal oxide layer using atomic layer deposition (ALD). In this way, the structure design flexibility with submicron resolution and the potential piezoelectric actuation properties can be combined to generate an active and responsive cell culture environment. The dynamically movable in vitro 3D structures would mimic the real cell surroundings in tissues, and thus facilitate the development of biocompatible nano-platforms for clinical translation.

ME.M_AlbroENG LABMichael Albro (ME, MSE) and Sean Andersson (ME, SE)

Fluorescent Colocalization Microscopy for Novel Quantification of Cellular Activation of TGF-

The 2016 BU MSE Innovation Grant winners:

Harold Park, ME and David Campbell, Physics
“Novel Memory Effect Materials: the Monolayer Group-IV Monochalcogenides”

The discovery of two-dimensional graphene and the recognition of its many exotic electronic properties have led to intense interest in other two-dimensional (2D) materials that can be isolated into single layers through exfoliation. The hope is these exotic properties—including the existence of multiple “valleys” in momentum space, which essentially confer another spin-like degree of freedom to electrons in these materials—can be used to make novel electronic devices. To date, however, any putative “valleytronic” devices have lacked the ability store information in non-volatile memories. We propose to study a class of materials in which the “valleytronics” are coupled to structural phase changes in the material, so that the bit value corresponds to a distinct structural phase of the material. As prototypical materials we will use SnS and GeSe, which belong to the family of group-IV layered monochalcogenides MX (M=Ge or Sn, and X=S or Se) and are known to undergo structural phase changes under mechanical strain. We will use computational studies to demonstrate that mechanical strain, and potential phase transformations in the monochalcogenides, can excite electrons from the valence band to the conduction band at the X or the Y-valley separately, using appropriately polarized light. The success of this research project could have a transformative effect on the field of 2D electronics and specifically lead to an entirely new class of nanoscale electronic devices based on non-volatile valleytronics.

Keith Brown, ME
“Imaging with Cantilever-free Scanning Probes”

The atomic force microscope (AFM) is a tool that images surfaces with extremely high resolution by detecting miniscule forces acting on a sharp tip. Conventionally, these instruments require the use of a flexible microscopic cantilever in order to detect these forces; a fact which makes AFM probes difficult to manufacture and operate in parallel. Here, we propose to detect forces acting on probes that are directly mounted on a rigid support coated with a compliant film. Since these cantilever-free probes can easily be manufactured in massively parallel arrays, using them to image would transform AFM into a tool that can accommodate centimeter-scale, rather than microscopic, samples.  This capability is expected to enable advances in diverse fields including biomedical engineering, hierarchical materials, and nanoelectronics.

Bjorn Reinhard, Chemistry
“Photonics Molecules for Enhanced Optical Forces for Chiral Trapping”

Chemical chirality refers to a phenomenon that occurs when a molecule does not superimpose with its own mirror image. Importantly, the chemical properties of the so-called enantiomers can differ even though the molecules have the same formula. The concept of chirality is, however, not limited to stereochemistry but also applies to some electromagnetic fields.  The goal of this project is to take advantage of the chirality of electromagnetic fields to develop new strategies for separating chemical enantiomers.  In particular, the design criteria and fundamental working principles of nanoscale antennas that generate strong gradients in the optical chirality as needed for strong enantiomer-selective forces will be explored.

Michelle Sander, ECE
“Multi-dimensional Photothermal Vibrational Infrared Spectroscopy”

Infrared spectroscopy in the mid-infrared fingerprint region has emerged as a powerful tool to determine molecular structure. However, for characterization in crowded and overlapping vibrational spectral bands, unique material identification can be challenging. Thus, the combination of spectral characterization with additional thermal material-specific properties can provide critical information for the detection of hazardous materials or chemical analysis. Similarly, spectral signatures of proteins (amide-bands) combined with variations in thermal properties across a sample could provide a novel way to systematically differentiate healthy from diseased tissue. The overall goal of this project is to develop a mid-infrared multi-dimensional vibrational spectroscopy system with high sensitivity that combines photothermal and characteristic thermal material measurements in one label-free, contactless configuration at eye-safe wavelengths, utilizing a fiber laser probe.

Xin Zhang, ME and Stephan Anderson, Radiology, BUSM
“Marrying MEMS with Acoustic Metamaterials to Realize Ultrasound Applications”

Metamaterials composed of sub-wavelength unit cell can exhibit extraordinary behaviors that do not exist in the nature. Achieving negative permeability and permittivity in electromagnetic metamaterials (EMM) has been widely reported with a range of phenomena such as negative index materials and cloaking having been realized in this area. With regards to acoustic metamaterials (AMMs), the design of these sub-wavelength unit cell structures enables acoustic wave manipulation and many promising acoustics applications have been explored. Despite the promise of AMMs, one of the fundamental limitations include their relatively low working frequency as the majority of proposed acoustic metamaterials are effective in the range of Hz-kHz. Overcoming this common limitation of AMMs would enable their practical application in ultrasound imaging, which requires operation in the MHz regime. During this project, we seek to design and fabricate AMMs in the micron-scale using MEMS fabrication approaches, thereby achieving operating frequencies in the MHz regime, appropriate for biomedical ultrasound imaging. Achieving functional AMMs in the frequency regime optimal for ultrasound imaging enables a host of applications that may dramatically potentiate this powerful medical imaging modality.

The 2014 BU MSE Innovation Grant winners:

Linda Doerrer
“Molecular Thermoelectrics”

Much contemporary research strives to use the sun as a virtually inexhaustible energy supply, either directly in photovoltaic devices or indirectly by converting its light energy into the chemical energy of solar fuels. The sun’s outpouring contributes thermal energy as well as light energy, and the former is from far being efficiently used in our technology. If we are to make the most of the solar spectrum, materials that can harvest phonons as well as photons are needed. Thermoelectric materials have been less well-studied than photovoltaic materials, but not because they cannot contribute meaningfully to our energy needs. There are many unmet challenges in these materials because of the inherent contradictions in property requirements, a Gordian knot in materials chemistry which requires a new approach. The Doerrer group will build highly anisotropic structures that facilitate electronic conduction in one dimension, while preventing strong thermal conductivity perpendicular to this flow.

Uday Pal and Peter Zink
“Innovative Recovery and Recycle of Critical Materials”

Rare earth (critical) metals (Dysprosium, Neodymium, Terbium, etc.) are mainly found in very small concentrations as oxides in native ores. Their concentrations in these ores can range from 1 to less than 0.1 w %. Current state-of-the-art extraction processes mainly employ hydrometallurgical techniques which generate large amounts of harmful waste and are capital intensive requiring large plant footprints. This makes it important to recycle the rare earth elements in products such as magnets (used in hybrid/electric vehicles, MRI units, computer hard disks), Phosphors, PV’s and Catalysts. Our technology based on solid oxygen ion conducting oxide membrane shows great promise for the production of critical metals directly from their oxidized feedstock by drastically simplifying the process, lowering the energy requirement, and reducing the environmental impact. The MSE Innovation grant will be used to demonstrate that the new technology can be used for rare earth extraction and recovery from their respective oxides. If successful the technology will be of great commercial interest.

Aaron Schmidt
“Adhesion Energy Microscopy”

The adhesion energy between dissimilar materials is a critical parameter in numerous fundamental problems and practical engineering applications in fields ranging from material science and mechanical engineering to biology and soft-matter physics. For example, adhesion has been shown to be major factor affecting the growth of tumor cells. However, the intermolecular force between different materials is often difficult to quantify, and the established method of measuring the force required to mechanically peel a thin film from a substrate is only applicable to a tiny subset of applications. We propose to develop a new microscopy technique based on high frequency thermal waves that will enable quantitative imaging of the adhesion energy between a solid substrate and soft materials including cells and other biological tissue, liquids, and polymers.

Allison Dennis
“Applying FRET Analysis to Nanoparticle Systems Experimentally and Computationally”

We develop fluorescent biosensors utilizing Förster Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) between a semiconductor nanoparticle quantum dot (QD) donor and an acceptor (a fluorescent dye, protein, or a second QD). FRET is the distance-dependent, non-radiative transfer of energy from an excited donor to an acceptor through dipole coupling. Ongoing work in nanoparticle-based fluorescent biosensor design incorporates ever more complicated nanostructures and combinations of nanoparticles, such that a very clear understanding of the foundation of the energy transfer mechanism and how it applies to nanoparticle systems is necessary to enhance our ability to appropriately design complex FRET systems and exploit the energy transfer in applications. This MSE Innovator grant will be used to study the energy transfer between a large heterostructured (core/shell) nanoparticle donor and a small organic acceptor experimentally and through a Monte Carlo model in order to ascertain where within the nanoparticle bulk the energy for transfer originates so that more accurate donor-acceptor distances can be determined. This understanding will then be applied to the design of complex nanomaterials-based FRET systems.

Kamil Ekinci
“Energy Harvesting from Active Biomaterials”

Active microscopic biomaterials — such as bacteria and spores — provide an abundant and untapped source of energy, especially for low-resource settings. The potential of energy harvesting from microorganisms has been realized early on, and much research has been performed in this promising field. Most efforts in bio-energy harvesting from microorganisms have been focused on bio-chemical (e.g., photosynthesis) and bio-electro-chemical approaches (e.g., microbial fuel cells). Biomechanical motion of microorganisms remains largely unexplored as a source of energy. The goal of this project is to convert the mechanical motion of common microorganisms into electrical energy, opening up bio-mechanical energy harvesting at the micron and sub-micron scales.

The 2013 BU MSE Innovation Grant winners:

Ramesh Jasti and Xi Lin *
“Theory-Guided Synthetic Design of Novel n-Type Carbon Nanohoops for Organic Photovoltaics”

Professor Ramesh Jasti (Chemistry, MSE) and Professor Xi Lin (ME, MSE), who have developed the first gram-scale synthesis of carbon nanohoops and the first accurate electronic structure model that can handle mesoscopic crystalline and amorphous π-conjugated stacking arrays, will design and synthesize new conductive polymers with carbon nanohoop functionality. Envisioned as the smallest unit cycle of an armchair carbon nanotube, carbon nanohoops have tremendous electron accepting potential, stack with very good π-π overlap in the solid state, and will act as electron-hopping bridges between polymer chains to enhance charge mobility. These soluble, graphitic n-type bundles are expected to perform better than C60 fullerene with the added advantages of synthetic tuneability and processability.

*This proposal was also selected as most suitable for an additional $10K from the Center for Computational Science (CCS) to promote experimental-theoretical collaborations.

Catherine Klapperich
“Mechanisms of Surface Driven Nucleic Acid Isolation from Biological Solutions”

We will study the interactions between DNA and silica surfaces. Silica surfaces are commonly used in diagnostics to grab, wash and release nucleic acids before enzymatic amplification reactions for the detection of disease. Although many theories have been proposed, the mechanism by which deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) specifically adsorbs onto SiO2 has not been experimentally confirmed. We will use the grant funds to perform solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (ssNMR) experiments to validate our proposed mechanisms.

Roberto Paiella and Ted Moustakas
“Dislocation- and Polarization-Free III-Nitride Quantum Cascade Structures for THz Light Emission”

Terahertz technologies have great potential for many sensing, spectroscopy, and imaging applications in areas of high relevance and timeliness, such as security screening, medical diagnostics, and manufacturing quality control. However, the widespread emergence of these technologies has so far been severely limited by to the lack of practicalTHz radiation sources. In particular, existing semiconductor devices, based on GaAs quantum wells are fundamentally limited to incomplete coverage of the THz spectrum and to operation at cryogenic temperatures.

III-nitride semiconductors are particularly promising for the purpose of overcoming these limitations, by virtue of several intrinsic material properties such as large optical-phonon energies well above the THz spectral range. At the same time, however, the development of these devices has so far been hindered by the limited crystalline quality and complex band structure of existing III-nitride QWs, due to strain-induced defects and strong built-in electric fields along the polar crystallographic c-axis. To address these issues, we propose to synthesize quantum cascade structures for Terahertz light emission based on novel bandgap engineering of III-nitride heterostructures.

Tyrone Porter
“Lipid-polymer Hybrid Nanoparticles for Targeted Delivery of Cis-platin”

Cisplatin is a platinum-based anticancer agent that has found broad clinical use in the treatment of a variety of cancers, including breast and ovarian. While potent, the dose of cisplatin administered to patients is severely limited due to its toxic effects, which includes nephrotoxicity and severe renal dysfunction. In the proposed project, cisplatin will be loaded into lipid-polymer hybrid nanoparticles designed to release their payload specifically in the cytoplasm of cancer cells, thus sparing healthy cells and tissues. Conjugating cisplatin to the polymer core of the nanoparticle via a cleaveable linker allows for sustained drug release. Coating the cisplatin-loaded nanoparticles with a mixture of folic acid-terminated lipids and fusogenic lipids will increase the specificity with which the particles are internalized and facilitate endosomal escape, respectively. As the novel hybrid nanoparticle is designed to prolong the exposure of cancer cells to cisplatin, it may be possible to overcome the resistance of cancer cells to cisplatin therapy using the delivery vehicle. This would be a major achievement, as attempts to overcome cisplatin resistance have largely been unsuccessful. The proposed lipid-polymer nanoparticle has the potential to provide a more favorable biodistribution and pharmacological profile for cisplatin, thus enhancing its potency while minimizing systemic toxicities.

Joe Tien
“Active Biomaterials for Applications in Tissue Engineering”

Professor Joe Tien (BME, MSE), who will investigate the development of active biomaterials for applications in tissue engineering. Most current biomaterials are chemically or optically active, but mechanically passive. For many applications (e.g., in the treatment of lymphatic disease), it is desirable to have an autonomous material that can move and perform useful work by harvesting local energy sources. Tien aims to create valve-containing, self-oscillating hydrogels that can continuously pump in the presence of external stress or glucose.

The 2012 BU MSE Innovation Grant winners:

Soumendra Basu and Siddharth Ramachandran
“Novel semiconductor core optical fibers for mid-infrared applications”

Professors Basu and Ramachandran will attempt to design novel semiconductor core optical fibers that can guide mid-infrared (IR) light over tens of meters, the order of fiber- lengths needed for non-telecommunications applications such as jamming heat-seeking missiles or detecting bioterror threats. Their ultimate goal is to develop alternatives to conventional silica optical fibers, in which transmission losses increase dramatically at wavelengths in the mid-IR part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Mark Grinstaff
“Real-time control of drug release from superhydrophobic biomaterials using clinical ultrasound”

Professor Grainstaff will investigate the use of new biomaterials to control the release of drugs in implantable drug delivery systems (DDS) in real time using ultrasound. While implantable DDS are designed to deliver a therapeutic drug dose over extended periods directly to a target site, they lack real-time control over the release of the drug; once implanted, the drug is delivered at a preprogrammed dose and rate. Grinstaff aims to design a unique, implantable, ultrasound-activated DDS using newly synthesized materials that will enable healthcare providers to release specific doses at specific times in coordination with diagnostics technologies for lung cancer and other diseases.

Anders Sandvik
“Novel computer simulation method for quantum glasses”

Professor Sandvik will develop a novel computer simulation method for “quantum glasses.” A common “glass,” such as a window pane, has an exceedingly long relaxation time—its microscopic structure changes so slowly that it normally appears stable. A “quantum glass” is a generalization of the classical glass concept to systems in which quantum fluctuations play an important role, particularly at low temperatures. Theoretical models of quantum glasses are notoriously difficult to study reliably, but Sandvik recently developed a novel algorithm which he plans to use in computer simulations of these systems. A better understanding of quantum glasses is important for future materials applications.

Anna Swan and Bennett Goldberg
“Landau levels at room temperature: Plasmonic-enhanced optical signatures from strain-induced pseudo magnetic fields in graphene”

Professors Swam and Goldberg will attempt to engineer graphene, a single sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycombed structure, to exhibit discrete electrical energy levels that could be exploited to design very efficient electronic devices. A very strong magnetic field could in principle accomplish this, but would be completely impractical. Instead, they plan to stretch and deform the material in such a way to give rise to the desired energy structure. They will probe the response of the material to stretching using light-amplifying plasmonic structures developed by Professor Hatice Altug (ECE).

Joyce Wong
“3D Vascularized tissues from self-assembly of cell-encapsulated microbeads”

Professor Wong will investigate the development of 3D vascularized tissues using self-assembly techniques. A major challenge for tissue engineering is the formation of thick, replacement tissue equipped with blood vessels that integrate the tissue with its host. For example, the current standard practice of care for reconstructive surgery after mastectomy is to obtain vascularized fat tissue from another part of the patient’s body and then transplant it to replace tissue removed during the mastectomy. Elimination of the need to harvest the tissue from the patient would have tremendous impact, because the majority of the surgery is taken up by the time required to harvest tissue with a sufficiently large diameter blood vessel that can then be hooked up via microsurgery to the vessel in the transplant site.