My article, written with Dylan Domaille, appears in Chemistry of Materials. Check it out here: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/cm5007789. We demonstrated predictable control of the material properties of the hydrazone crosslinked hydrogel by varying bath pH. The abstract is below:
Rheological and small molecule kinetic studies were performed to study the formation and hydrolysis of the bis-aliphatic hydrazone bond. The rate of gelation was found to correspond closely with the rate of bond formation and the rate of gel relaxation with the rate of hydrolysis, indicating that small molecule kinetic studies can play an important role in material design. Furthermore, unlike aryl or acyl hydrazone bonds, the bis-aliphatic hydrazone bond forms rapidly under physiological conditions without requiring aniline catalysis yet maintains a pH-dependent rate of hydrolysis. These results suggest the bis-aliphatic hydrazone bond should find use alongside existing bioorthogonal click chemistries for bioconjugation, biomaterial synthesis, and controlled release applications.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the abstract I submitted to the 2014 Society of Biomaterials meeting was recognized with a STAR (Student Travel Achievement Recognition) Award by the Education and Professional Development Committee of the Society. As an awardee, I get $250, a certificate I can hang on my fridge, and a star next to my name in the abstract booklet so more people will show up. My talk will be at 9:45 am on Thursday, April 17th and is entitled “Cytocompatible Covalently Adaptable Networks to Probe Biophysical Behavior of Encapsulated Cells.” Please show up and say hi if you’re planning on attending the conference.
After a lot of hard work and preparation, Agribotix came to the Cleantech Finals of the University of Colorado New Venture Challenge ready to compete. Seven other excellent teams were invited, but thanks invaluable feedback from our mentors we were able to win the overall prize of $2,500 and an invitation to compete for the overall best business in April. The judges gave us outstanding feedback and we look forward to the next round. Check out our website at www.agribotix.com.
From left to right: Tom McKinnon, Paul Hoff, Wayne Greenberg, me, Phil Calabrese, and Steve Berens, one of our judges
My Advanced Materials paper, describing the synthesis and application of a step-growth PEG hydrogel crosslinked by hydrazone bonds, was awarded the front cover of issue Volume 26, Issue 6. Michael Brasino, a colleague in the Cha Lab, designed the cover for us in Maya, trying to show a cell pushing through the hydrogel. I think it looks great and I’m thrilled that a prestigious journal is recognizing our work through a front cover. Check it out at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adma.201470033/abstract.
My first paper, published in Biomaterials Science, was one of 2013′s most-accessed papers. In that work, I showed a synthetic niche capable of supported the viability and axon extension of embryonic stem cell-derived motor neurons and demonstrated the importance of matrix biochemical functionalization and mechanics. The full list can be seen at http://pubs.rsc.org/en/journals/articlecollectionlanding?sercode=bm&themeid=993f9821-cb39-4208-91fe-b41c0fc25970.
I recently came into possession of a pair of Zeal Optics HD Camera Goggles (http://www.zealoptics.com/hdcameragoggle.html). This is an amazing product that combines a top-notch goggle with the electronics inside a GoPro for around $400. The buttons are easy to use wearing mittens, the quality is incredible, and you take amazing ski videos without looking like a fool with a GoPro strapped to your head.
I filmed six of us skiing together over New Year’s Day at Winter Park after a storm that dropped 6″ of fresh powder rolled through and managed to edit the video into a 2 minute highlight reel while watching the Broncos dismantle the Chargers. Check out the finished product below:
Several weeks ago the C&EN (http://cen.acs.org/index.html) cover story profiled a number of low-growth specialty chemical business units that have been spun off into the hands of PE firms or to shareholders (http://cen.acs.org/articles/91/i45/New-Ways-Grow.html). Particularly surprising for me was DuPont’s decision to spin off its performance chemicals division, the division responsible for Teflon, refrigerants, and titanium dioxide pigments, to shareholders. When I think of DuPont, I think of fluorinated polymers and was pretty surprised to read a few months ago that this unit was on the auction block. It looks like no buyer emerged and the current DuPont shareholders will retain ownership over the new company, but between this and the sale of DuPont’s performance coatings business to the Carlyle Group for $4.9B earlier this year, it seems like DuPont might be faced with some mission drift. I recognize companies need to continually reinvent themselves and their products, but the performance chemical division made made $1.8B on $7.2B in revenue last year netting a nice 25% profit margin and representing 21% of DuPont’s total revenues. It was not a dog by any means and was jettisoned to focus on industrial and agricultural biotechnology, a division fives times larger in revenue than currently operates at an 18% margin. Products certainly have different life cycles and industrial and agricultural biotechnology are both hot areas at the moment, but DuPont has spent the last 215 years cultivating a core competency in the chemicals business and it seems unwise to abandon that. Similar mistakes were made with traditional pharmaceutical companies trying to move into the biologic space with Roche emerging as the clear winner by simply acquiring Genentech so perhaps it might be wise for DuPont to consider a similar strategy.
The Telegraph recently published a short interview with Dr. Schekman (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/10507434/Nobel-prize-winner-accuses-scientific-journals-of-tyranny.html) on the publishing process and enormous pressure on graduate students, especially in biology, to publish in the top journals. He rightfully claims that research efforts are driven more by the desire to publish in Science, Nature, or Cell than ration decision-making, something which I have seen with my own eyes. We are lucky in the Anseth lab that Kristi, our adviser, is willing to publish quality work in any reputable journal, but I have heard from many graduate students whose advisers refuse to submit to lower-impact publications. This results in either good science going unpublished or the research being directed towards a path with the potential to generate the highest impact rather than the one most likely to be successful.
However, this idea of tyranny is a double-edged sword. Someone has to curate scientific knowledge. For better or for worse, even young scientists are judged by their quality and quantity of publications leading to a strong motivation to publish frequently. This leads to an enormous volume of published science and some entity needs to separate the wheat from the chaff, allowing easy dissemination of ground-breaking science to journalists and industry. I agree with Dr. Schekman in the sense that the current system could use a tune-up and have frequent conversations with other graduate students about publishing, but I’m not sure how a better system would work. Aside from withholding research that does not fit into one of the top journals, which I believe is always a travesty, the current system does a reasonable job of ensuring top work of general interest is published in top journals and field-specific work is published in lower-impact journals. Mistakes certainly get made and researchers probably get too wound up with impact, but any industry faces similar problems and science is no different.
My recent Advanced Materials paper was selected for the front cover of an upcoming issue. The art is in the works, but we are showing a 3D rendering of a cell spreading through the material. This is a tremendous honor for my work to appear on the cover of this top materials science journal and I look forward to posting the finished product.
CU Physics Professor Steve Pollock, who I had the pleasure of learning from as an undergraduate, was named a 2013 U.S. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. This a great honor for CU and Steve, but Boulder Weekly use the occasion to write several articles hammering CU for nearly not granting Steve tenure because of his lack of physics research productivity (http://www.boulderweekly.com/article-11944-two-cu-articles-on-pollock-mysteriously-disappear.html, http://www.boulderweekly.com/article-11943-curss-professor-of-the-year-traveled-a-rocky-academic-road.html). While I will be the first to admit that teaching should be re-prioritized at big research universities, these article struck a chord with me as they highlighted Steve and his colleagues’ research in physics education. Since Carl Weimann won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2001, he devoted most of his time to building CU into a world-class center for teaching undergraduate physics and many other professors have followed suit. While I applaud efforts to modernize physics education and believe the PhET applets (http://phet.colorado.edu/) are a spectacular teaching tool, I’m feel strongly that physics research should be done in the physics department and education research should be done in the education department. It is now possible to get a doctorate in Physics researching physics education at CU (http://phys.colorado.edu/research/physics-education-research) and many professors in the physics department now only perform physics education research. I strongly believe that a degree in Physics is the most fundamental quantitative background one can achieve and, while education research is extremely valuable, it devalues the quantitative Physics brand established through centuries of discovery.