The Millennium Cafe

Exchanging ideas and challenges

Mar 27 2018
When Good Intentions Fall Flat: Ethical Issues Surrounding University Involvement in International Development

For centuries, universities have contributed meaningfully to society through innovation, discovery, and educating future generations. In universities around the world, students and faculty are utilizing their intellectual resources and human capacity to tackle global challenges such as poverty, hunger, health, equality, and climate change. Unfortunately, sometimes in the pursuit to help others, we forget to reflect on the ethical issues that our actions may cause during and after international engagement. Come talk with me about ethical challenges in university-community international development and discuss how we can shift perceptions among university stakeholders from thinking of university international development as philanthropic to one of mutual respect and reciprocity.

Seeing the ‘Breathing’ of Low-Dimensional Material Systems

The “breathing”, or the vibrational motion of materials, contains rich information about the physical and chemical properties and states. Raman spectroscopy is a powerful analytical tool to see such “breathing”. In this talk, I will present some examples on how we can “see breathing” of 2D materials systems, including twisted bilayer MoS2 and few-layer black phosphorus, and how the “breathing” behaviors of coupled nanomaterials are influenced by each other which leads to new opportunities in chemical and biological sensing.

Mar 20 2018
How Small Animals Move on Land and in Air: Revealing Principles of Insect Locomotion at the Interface of Biomechanics, Neuroscience, and Robotics

Animals move with remarkable agility and robustness, which is unparalleled by current physical (robot) systems. Major conceptual breakthroughs are needed to synthesize an engineering ‘blueprint’ of animal locomotion. Emphasizing the senses of touch and vision, I will draw on control tasks in running and flying insects to describe how animals implement feedback control. Throughout I will highlight opportunities for multidisciplinary collaborations at the intersection of material science, biomechanics, neurogenetics, mathematics and robotics.

The Myth of the Scientific Method: Using Research Projects to Teach STEM in K-12

A traditional science classroom spends the first few weeks teaching students how scientists do their work and the rest of the class telling them what scientists already know. Current reforms in STEM education promote engaging students in the practices of researchers to make sense of disciplinary content. Since most K-12 teachers have little experience in research, this creates a serious challenge. However, teacher professional development workshops based on authentic research projects can build teachers capacity to teach in this way, and can serve as effective broader impacts programs for federally funded research grants.

Mar 13 2018
Biophysics of Proteins and Nucleic Acids

The molecules of life, proteins and nucleic acids are essential parts of every living organism and participate in most processes within cells. Many proteins and some RNA are enzymes that catalyze a number of biochemical reactions. These macromolecules purified from different research labs across Penn State have been studied using a variety of biophysical techniques in our facility. The methods we employ include X-ray crystallography, solution small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), dynamic light scattering, bio-layer interferometry, circular dichroism spectroscopy, micro electron diffraction, molecular modeling, isothermal calorimetry and differential scanning calorimetry. Come learn about some recent examples where the facility has assisted researchers in delineating the structure-function enigmas of various macromolecules.

Artificial Nanograss for Energy Harvesting

I will discuss our efforts in investigating molecular orientation at substrate and organic interfaces for the production of artificial “nanograss”. We developed a method for growing oriented single-crystal nanopillars at graphene interfaces for use in high performance organic solar cells. The use of organic single-crystalline devices will have a major impact in accelerating the emerging area of organic electronics, as these highly ordered systems will enable one to extract intrinsic charge carrier transport phenomena that cannot be accurately determined from disordered systems common to amorphous and/or polycrystalline films used in mainstream devices.

Mar 6 2018
No Millennium Cafe
Enjoy Spring Break!

We will return on Tuesday, March 13, 2018.

Feb 27 2018
Bilingual Biological Communication (BBC): Multidisciplinary reSearch Collaboration (MSC)

We communicate in different ways: hand-shaking, texting, speaking, etc. We speak using different languages: English, Chinese, Spanish, etc., and many of us are bilingual or even multilingual. Living cells also communicate with others in their multicellular society. But are cells monolingual or multilingual? It has been long believed that cells only speak a biochemical language, wherein cells communicate through message-passing factors called morphogens. In this talk I will show compelling evidence that living cells also communicate in the language of mechanics. This bilingual cell communication leads to various fundamental biological functions in development and repair, and dysfunctions in disease and injury. To better understand these phenomena requires multidisciplinary collaborations among mechanicians, chemists, materials scientists, and biologists.

Zeolites, MOFs, and Beyond: Opportunities Inside Nanopores

When molecules are confined in nanopores (0.5-10 nm), their characteristics can be altered significantly. For example: certain molecules can be easily converted into other molecules only if they are trapped in a confined space, which inspired catalytic production of gasoline and diesel in petroleum refining. Our research group studies two types of nanoporous materials: zeolites and metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), and how material morphology can affect their performance. I will demonstrate how zeolites and MOFs can be used in energy-related gas separations and catalytic production of fuels from natural gas derivatives. I will also mention their potential future applications in biological and medical sciences.

Feb 20 2018
New Opportunities for Materials Discovery

The foundations of crystal chemistry were developed in the early 1900s when scientists realized that a combination of factors including atomic/ionic radii, electronegativity difference, and preferred valence could be used with incredible success to understand and predict an enormous spectrum of crystalline solids. For 100 years, the materials community depended on this approach to guide material engineering efforts. This presentation introduces the concept of entropic stabilization, an orthogonal approach to materials design, where one uses configurational entropy to stabilize new crystals that “escape” conventional predictive power. We will demonstrate the ability to incorporate metal cations into “unusual” structural environments, and potentially realize new materials with interesting structures and physical properties.

How Stuff Moves in Turbulence: From Particles to Animals

Fluid turbulence is everywhere in the natural and engineered world: a complex tangle of vortices and eddies that span a wide range of length and time scales. However, from the point of view of objects and animals suspended in turbulence, this complexity is highly dependent on scale. Small, nearly-massless things are passive tracers, completely at the mercy of the surrounding flow; large, massive things can pass through even strong turbulence without being affected too much by it. In between, there is a continuum of spatiotemporal complexity where suspended matter is intermittently affected by turbulence. We will explore these intermediate scales and their physics, and discuss what they can teach us about both engineering and biology.

Feb 13 2018
Understanding Emerging Contaminants in the Environment: From Fear to Empowerment

Many of the products we use in our everyday lives contain chemicals that, while deemed safe for human use, are known to disrupt the endocrine systems of aquatic species such as fish and amphibians. As these chemicals are increasingly found in drinking water sources, there is a pressing need to understand both environmental and human health impacts. Our research group seeks to understand the sources of these chemicals, their transport through the environment, and the effectiveness of water treatment technologies to remove them from wastewater and drinking water. In an effort to engage the general public on this topic of emerging concern, we developed an “Emerging Contaminants Footprint Tool” to help empower people to reduce their footprint by making informed choices that can improve water quality for humans and aquatic ecosystems.

Artificial Mineralization Vesicles: A New Platform for Biomimetic Mineral Synthesis

Nature creates beautifully crafted functional inorganic structures to supplement biological functions, from structural support to enhanced optics. These tissues known as biominerals have garnered the attention of biologists and materials scientists alike, the latter aiming to emulate similar properties into their own synthetic materials. To that end, we have developed a novel artificial mineralization vesicle capable of directed synthesis of organic-inorganic composite materials.

Feb 6 2018
External Regulation of Polymers in Two and Three Dimensions

Electric fields are a convenient tool for the fabrication of ordered nanostructures because they can be applied instantly, localized precisely, and scale favorably with dimensions relevant to nanofabrication techniques. Although polymeric materials are increasingly used in electronic applications, their physical behavior in the presence of electric fields is not well understood. Defined polymer structures have significant relevance in a variety of thin film applications. Here, light‐mediated polymerization and highly efficient ‘click’ chemistries in a stop‐flow lithographic setup provide a powerful platform for fabrication of hierarchical surface‐grafted polymer brush architectures from uniformly functionalized substrates.

How Sum Frequency Generation Microscopy can Change our Understanding of Plant Cell Wall Structure

Sum Frequency Generation (SFG) vibrational spectroscopy has demonstrated an ability to distinguish crystalline cellulose from its surrounding amorphous polymers. Conventional SFG systems reveal information about the packing, distance, and orientation of cellulose crystals in macroscopic scales. However, macroscopic characterization techniques provide volume averaged information which can mask key structural details. To tackle this problem, our group developed a state of the art SFG-microscopy system, which gives us the ability to study smaller regions (<10 microns). I will discuss why these small regions are important and how SFG-microscopy can be used to enhance the study of plant mutation and plant development.

Jan 30 2018
Repairing Bone Defects: Approaches and Challenges

Traditional tissue engineering methods utilize either isolated cell suspension injection or biodegradable scaffolds to support tissue formation. However, current cell seeding methods can lead to insufficient nutrient transport to cells located in the interior of the scaffold, resulting in poor graft integration. I will present our progress in the development of a scaffold free platform as an alternative to scaffold based techniques in tissue engineering

Dawn of a New Ice Age: Using Cryogenic Microscopy to Study Cellular Structure

With cryo electron microscopy (CryoEM) in the spot light these days, it's important to be aware of it's different flavors, as well as the complimentary technologies that have developed in tandem. In this talk I will focus on the use of electron cryotomography to study molecules in their cellular context, the development of cryo-focused ion beam milling for imaging within mammalian cells and tissue, as well as cryo-fluorescence microscopy for targeting specific molecules within the cell. I will also touch on the current challenges to be overcome as cryogenic imaging moves into the future.

Jan 23 2018
3D Printing, Humanitarian Engineering, and Social Entrepreneurs

The Penn State Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship program (HESE) is focused on how engineering and social enterprise mix to solve humanitarian problems. The talk will show what the program is and where it is going, and highlight an example of how we are working to allow nearly anyone anywhere to use 3D printing to bring medical necessities to rural health care facilities. 

Parallel Universe

Join us for a performance by Penn State's professors of flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon. This ensemble will present a program that will include a fugue by the renowned J.S. Bach and music from Parallel Universe, a newly-commissioned-jazz-inspired work by Los Angeles-based composer Gernot Wolfgang.  This diverse program will appeal to all listeners.

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