The Millennium Cafe

Exchanging ideas and challenges

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.

Jan 16 2018
Beautiful Figures for Beautiful Data: Please Don’t use Default Settings

Charts and graphs are crucial tools for communicating scientific data. Unfortunately, it's easy to make charts with awkward, confusing, or otherwise ineffective design choices.  In this talk, I’ll review simple design concepts that can make the difference between mediocrity and an effective, compelling, and inspiring visual aid.

Breaking the Mechanobiology Barrier: How Cells Respond to Mechanical Stimuli in the Native Tissue Environment

Over the last decade there has been a growing interest in the importance of mechanical stimuli on cell behavior. Passive physical properties (i.e., alignment, stiffness) and actively applied mechanical stimuli (i.e., stretch, fluid shear stress) modulate fundamental aspects of cell function.  However, most mechanobiology studies investigate isolated cells on artificial substrates, which lack the complicated 3D structure and composition of the cellular “niche” found within the native tissue. Using tendons as a model system, I will discuss my efforts to measure tissue mechanics at the cellular length scale and understand the cell response to mechanical stimuli during tendon degeneration and development.  The goals of this work are to identify the causes of tendon pathology, discover novel therapeutic options, and direct the design of biomaterials that can recapitulate the behavior of native tissue.

Jan 9 2018
MRI Update: Recent Achievements and Future Excellence

As we begin the New Year we’ll take a moment to celebrate some recent accomplishments and look towards the future: winners of the 2017 Rustum and Della Roy Awards will be announced, new faculty will be highlighted, and I’ll provide an update on some MRI strategic initiatives.

Converting Small Amounts of Freely Available Energy into Electricity

There are many forms of energy around us: light, heat, vibrations, wind, electromagnetic fields, fluid flow, waves, organic waste, etc. At large scale, many of these energy sources already play a significant role in powering our society and are projected to become dominant contributors by 2040. On the smaller scale, exciting scientific and engineering challenges must be overcome to harness these energy sources. Success in developing devices that cost-effectively convert these very small magnitudes of energy into electricity will lead to massive infrastructural changes ranging from buildings to transportation to communication. In this talk, I will provide a brief summary on the progress made in developing these small scale devices and discuss the potential for hybrid systems that combine living and artificial components to capture environmental energy.

Dec 5 2017
2D Materials: Physics When the World is Flat

Some materials have a naturally layered structure whose properties can change drastically when reduced to only a monolayer or two, graphite thinned to graphene being one of the best known examples, but there are a host of others. Developing new 2-dimensional materials and studying the interactions between various materials when stacked on top of each other is one of the most promising research areas today in physics and material science. The 2DCC-MIP at Penn State was established by the National Science Foundation to develop these new materials and make them freely available to the general scientific community via a national lab like model, where anyone can write a proposal to obtain or develop these new materials.

Regenerative Medicine and Additive Manufacturing: More than just BioPrinting

Regenerative medicine demonstrates great potential for development of tissues and organs through the application of stem cells, biomaterials and soluble factors.  This talk will explore the interaction between stem cells and materials and how additive manufacturing technologies can be used to drive the formation of bio-instructive scaffolds capable of directing the differentiation of stem cells.

Nov 28 2017
Measuring the Nanoscale Mechanical Properties of Bone, Graphene, Cells, Hydrogels, Plastic and Everything in Between

In partnership with numerous faculty, departments, and colleges; the Materials Characterization Laboratory (MCL) recently installed a state-of-the-art nanomechanical & nanotribological testing system, the Hysitron TI 9800 Triboindenter.  This talk will highlight the breadth of new functionality this instrument brings to campus – which includes variable temperature measurements (up to 800C), the ability to study samples in their fully hydrated state, nanoscale DMA, nanoscratching, and nanoindentaion to name but a few.

Visualizations: Bridging Art and Science with Data

As the Information Age has transitioned into the Big Data Age we’ve neglected to translate all data into knowledge.  Novel approaches are required to express data in more artistic and visual expressions and the Huck Data & Visualization group aides in the transformation of static graphics to dynamic visualizations or standard models into sophisticated art ventures.  We will highlight new ways that technology can aid faculty and students in showcasing their research to new audiences with better clarity, control, and charisma.

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