The Millennium Café

Exchanging ideas and challenges

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

Feb 18 2020
“Taking a Bite Out of Foodborne Illness”

What do breath strips have to do with preventing foodborne illness? Pullulan, the polysaccharide used to make these strips shows promise as an edible delivery system for antimicrobials on food surfaces. I will discuss how a novel composite antimicrobial film, made from pullulan, antimicrobials, and polyethylene can inhibit pathogens associated with muscle foods.

“Heavy Metal as the Sound of Global Risk”

What does a global threat sound like? The Pentagon, the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists all diagnose risks to global society including pandemics, weapons of mass destruction, failed states, and the failure to address anthropogenic climate change. In the this talk/performance I will show how heavy metal musicians have brought attention to these global threats through their music and art. Future Café talks this semester will highlight other approaches for communicating important messages beyond the standard approaches employed by researchers.

Feb 11 2020
“Bridges Go Both Ways: Learning from Refugees in East Africa”

I am a rural sociologist and gender specialist working in refugee settlements and camps in Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia. My pecific research focuses on biomass energy use by households for home cooking and sometimes heating. Frequently I am asked by scientists and engineers here in the US how cutting edge research can be brought to communities in remote locations like the ones in which I work. Today I will share a snapshot of the research I do, outline some critical insights about how to work across cultural and technological divides, and demonstrate the arenas in which Penn State faculty can learn from communities that enjoy fewer material resources.  

“Beyond Yoda Heads: A Materials Approach to Functional 3D Printed Plastics”

3D printing can enable new form factors, on demand inventory, and facile distributed manufacturing to provide a new additive manufacturing paradigm. However, low cost printing with polymers has tended to lead to brittle materials that offer limited use in engineering applications. Here we describe several routes to select polymeric materials to provide enhanced mechanical properties from 3D printing as well as provide new functionality to 3D printed parts.  

Feb 4 2020
“Funding for Big Team Science: Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI)”

The Multidisciplinary University Initiative (MURI) program is considered as one of the top opportunities for conducting team-based fundamental science investigations. MURI projects involve teams of researchers investigating high priority topics and opportunities that intersect more than one traditional technical discipline. A typical team consists of 4 – 6 researchers. Projects are funded for 5 years with total funding ranging from $5 – 7.5M. Each year 20 – 30 projects are funded under this program. This presentation will provide an overview of the MURI program and discuss strategies for Penn State researchers to develop stronger efforts. Team formation, past track record and innovation is key for proposing these projects.

“A Nanocontrol Freak’s Guide to Making Any* Nanoparticle You Want”

We all like to dream about “what could be.” As chemists who make materials, this often takes the form of drawing pictures of what we want, based on our predictions of what the material might do. The challenge then becomes actually making what we designed. We can now design, and then actually make, a large megalibrary of nanoparticles with previously unimaginable complexity, all using simple benchtop chemistry and standard laboratory glassware. This begins to shift the narrative from “what is possible to make” to “what do we want to make.”

Jan 28 2020
“Designing Biomedical Membranes to Remove Unwanted Toxins in the Body”

With longer life expectancies, the prevalence of age-related diseases has been increasing, and as such there is a need to develop biomedical devices to address these emerging issues. Inspired by absorption columns, which are routinely used in industry to remove pollutants from chemical streams, my research focuses on the design of biomedical membranes for capturing unwanted toxins in the body. One significant benefit of using polymer membranes is their tunable binding affinity to target molecules using specific chemical, physical, or biological features. One example is using properly designed polymers to remove cancer chemotherapy drugs that are not taken up by the target tumor during chemotherapy to reduce the drugs’ toxic side effects.

“Collaborative Plasma Science at Penn State: Interdisciplinary Opportunities”

Since its inception in 2015, the Low-Temperature Plasma Science and Engineering Research group has forged cross-disciplinary collaborations to investigate a myriad of opportunities in medicine, energy, environment, and materials science. We will provide an update on the results of some collaborations, as well as advancements in experimental capabilities. Finally, we invite members of the Penn State community to engage with us in an emerging broader plasma science and engineering initiative to maximize the potential of this transformational technology.

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.

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