The Millennium Café

Exchanging ideas and challenges

~ every Tuesday at 10 a.m. in the Millennium Science Complex, 3rd Floor Commons ~

Jan 21 2020
“SMaL, but Functional! From “hairy” nanocellulose to Protein Microgels for Applications in Healthcare and the Environment”

Can we chemically break down cellulose fibers into functional nanomaterials which could provide new strategies for treating water, for filtering blood? Can we convert proteins into particle gels for accelerated wound healing, disease modeling, and tissue engineering? These are just a few questions motivating work in the Soft Materials Laboratory (SMaL).

“Wearable Sensors”

Current gas sensors are mostly rigid, bulky, and require significant energy to operate. In this talk, I will introduce the use of laser-induced porous carbon materials to construct wearable gas sensors to detect toxic gas molecules such as nitrogen dioxide. These wearable gas sensors are flexible, stretchable, and highly sensitive to various target gas species. 

Jan 14 2020
“Beyond Making Paper Cranes: Functional Origami from Engineering Materials”

It is easy to fold a piece of paper into a classic origami “crane”. However, it is difficult to fold a brittle silicon membrane. In this talk, I will show our work on foldable and deployable multifunctional origami made from advanced engineering materials with potential for applications in harsh environments (e.g. outer space) and biomedicine.

“Dialogue and the Scientific Method”

Dialogue fails to be constructive because it forgets about science--not the facts, but the method. World in Conversation is in the intermediate stages of building a revised approach to dialogue that not only requires facilitators, but also demands a kind of collaborative critical thinking that takes many of its cues from the scientific method.

Jan 7 2020
No Millennium Cafe on January 7.

The Millennium Cafe will return on January 14, 2020.

Dec 17 2019
No Millennium Cafe December 17 through January 7.

The Millennium Cafe will return on January 14, 2020.

Dec 10 2019
“How Biomolecules Affect Photovoltaic Cell Performance”

Photovoltaic cells using efficient and cheap photoactive materials such as halide perovskite represents as a clean technology for future energy deployment. We found some natural existing biomolecules can be actively involved in the perovskite photovoltaic cells, triggering various effects in either improving the solar cell performance or leading to other opportunities such as efficient solar-thermal conversion. I will show some examples and discuss the potential in this direction.

“If I Only Had a Brain…Investigating how Bacteria Sense and Respond to their Environment”

The ability of bacteria to sense and respond to their environment allows for regulation of intracellular pathways that alter key characteristics, such as growth, metabolism, and virulence; however, our knowledge of the (bio)chemistry underlying many of these processes is still very minimal. Understanding these chemical signals and signaling pathways dictates our ability to develop new methods to alter bacterial characteristics, such as decreasing bacterial within an infected host, selectively targeting a single species of bacteria to alter a microbiome, or engineering pathways to reprogram bacteria for novel functions. Using tools from chemistry, biochemistry, and molecular biology, my group is working to develop novel insights about how bacteria sense and respond to changes in their environment.

Dec 3 2019
“Structural and Interfacial Challenges in Energy Storage Systems”

Rapid growth of electric vehicles has stimulated the development of high-energy storage systems, especially Li–based batteries. However, the wide deployment of Li-based batteries has been hindered by its poor cycling efficiency and safety concerns, both of which stem from the uncontrollable structural and interfacial evolution. I will discuss some challenges in current systems and propose some potential areas for collaboration.

“Overcoming Sample and Environmental Limitations in TEM”

There is a wealth of information that can be obtained at nanometer length scales from transmission electron microscopy (TEM) including crystal structure, elemental composition and chemistry, phase distributions, dimensions in nanoscale structures, etc.  However, limitations on beam dose, stability in vacuum, and other environmental parameters have made it difficult to perform certain types of experiments in the microscope.  I will highlight several opportunities where these barriers have been overcome via new detectors and in situ sample holders.

Nov 26 2019
There will be no Millennium Café on 11/26.

The Millennium Cafe will return on 12/3!

Nov 19 2019
“Serious and Sincere: Two Movements from Beethoven’s Opus 95”

Beethoven published a total of sixteen string quartets in his life, but this one stands out from them all. Opus 95 in F minor has been given the epithet “serious,” and for good reason. The first movement is unrelenting in its straining rhythm and ruthless articulation. Joseph Kerman says of this movement “this piece stands aloof, preoccupied with its radical private war on every fibre of rhetoric and feeling that Beethoven knew or could invent.”  Thankfully, the second movement gives way to a more lyrical motion, and although there are still hints of gloom, it ends peacefully. 

“Living Materials: Biomolecular Memory Elements that Compute Like the Brain”

I will highlight several examples of living materials that range from stimuli-responsive systems to those that achieve synapse-like functionality. I will also demonstrate the ability of such materials to sense, learn, and process signals.

Nov 12 2019
“Team Science: Navigating Temporal Differences in Teams”

Some individuals are chronically hurried, while others have a relaxed pace. Some start projects early, and others wait until the last minute to begin. What happens when team members with different orientations toward time work together interdependently? Although commonly overlooked in research and practice, research is demonstrating that time differences have important implications for team conflict, coordination, and performance.

“Millions More Molecules: New Organic Analytical Capabilities in EESL”

Newly acquired mass spectrometry instrumentation has greatly expanded organic molecular analysis capabilities at Penn State. This talk will highlight exciting applications in fields such as forensics, art history, food science, oil and gas, environmental contaminants of emerging concern, and astrobiology–including the technology behind the discovery of organic matter preserved in ancient Martian sediments. New capabilities include: high-resolution LC-Orbitrap and GC/triple quad mass spectrometry, direct analysis in real time (DART), and pyrolysis capabilities which can drastically reduce sample preparation steps, increasing throughput.

Nov 5 2019
“Cryo ex machina: Novel Approaches to Drug Discovery in cryo-EM”

Electron cryo-microscopy has emerged in recent years as a go-to technique for structural characterization of macromolecular machines. Freezing samples and optimizing parameters is a stochastic process and that oftentimes requires a tedious trial-and-error approach. This is a big impediment to high-throughput structural determination of drug-bound targets. I will discuss the issues we face and present food-for-thought in hopes of finding colleagues interested in solving them along with us.

“Solving our Global Phosphorus Problem”

Phosphorus is a finite resource estimated to run out in less than 300 years. Research shows more than 90% is lost from mine-to-fork and this inefficient use contributes to eutrophication that is devastating freshwater resources globally. Our research and commercialization efforts focus on capturing and recycling phosphorus to promote a more sustainable future for this vital nutrient.

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