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Stevenson Biomaterials Lecture on Nov. 19 will explore influence of biological adhesives on development of novel synthetic materials

November 07, 2008

Tricia Hopkins
(315) 443-2546

Tricia Hopkins

Would you believe that marine mussels and geckos are piquing the interest of researchers in the field of biomaterials? They are, as their adhesive strategies in wet and dry environments are inspiring the design and development of new functional biomaterials for use in humans.

Phillip B. Messersmith, professor of biomedical engineering and materials science engineering at Northwestern University and a member of the university's Institute for Bionanotechnology in Medicine, will explore this phenomenon in nature and how it influences biomaterials research in the next Stevenson Biomaterials Lecture, sponsored by the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute, on Wednesday, Nov. 19.

Messersmith will speak on "Biological Adhesives and Biomimetic Polymers: Things That Stick and Sticking to Things," in the Kilian Room, Room 500 of the Hall of Languages. A meet-and-greet will begin at 11:45 a.m., with a luncheon to follow. The lecture will begin at 1 p.m. Those who wish to attend are asked to R.S.V.P. to Karen Low at 443-3544 or by Nov. 12.

Marine mussels, Messersmith says, have evolved sophisticated protein glues that securely immobilize the organism on rocks and man-made structures. The proteins found in the glues have very specialized amino acid compositions that are undoubtedly related to the particular challenges of achieving permanent adhesion in the wet marine environment. Geckos, conversely, achieve temporary adhesion in dry environments using rather ordinary keratin (hair) proteins, taking advantage of weak transient chemical interactions with surfaces.

"I will focus on these two remarkable but contrasting adhesive strategies and illustrate how they can inspire the development of novel synthetic functional materials," Messersmith says.

Messersmith earned a bachelor's degree in life sciences and Ph.D. in materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University and a faculty member at the University of Illinois at Chicago before joining the Northwestern faculty. His awards and honors include young investigator awards from the Whitaker Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, and a MERIT Award from the NIH. He is a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

The Stevenson Biomaterials Lecture Series, made possible through the support of Ann McOmber Stevenson '52 and SU Trustee Emeritus Milton F. Stevenson III '53, brings pioneering biomaterials researchers to the SU campus each semester. Presenters are selected based on their leading roles in research in biomaterials-natural and synthetic substances designed to treat, augment or replace tissues and organs of the human body as treatments to disease or injury. In addition, Stevenson Lecturers visit with faculty and students to exchange ideas, build bridges and become familiar with the broad range of biomaterials research at Syracuse University. For more information, visit the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute website at

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