Synthesizing Novel Catalysts for Biomaterial Formation

Human-made biomaterials have the potential to unlock biological mysteries and transform human health. For a biomaterial to be useful, it must mimic the properties of living tissues and present cues to cells that generate a desired response (for example: to support loads, to grow, to produce a certain protein, to transform in some way, etc). A wide-range of materials are used in these applications and, in our shared work at HMC, we focus on soft tissue-models called hydrogels. Hydrogels are water-saturated polymer networks that are formed by mixing initially separate precursor-containing liquids to form solid materials (just like mixing resins when using epoxy). By precisely controlling the composition and volume of each precursor fluid, it is possible to engineer hydrogels whose bulk, macroscopic properties mimic those of living tissues. The problem, however, is that biological tissues do not have fixed, uniform properties throughout; instead, their properties vary as a function of space. Therefore, current hydrogel fabrication methods do not adequately capture the complexity of living tissues.

It is essential that hydrogel systems are made of tunable crosslinking agents with catalysts that can be used in a variety of situations. Recently oxime-mediated crosslinking of hydrogels has been on the rise due to oxime systems’ semi-reversibility and completely biocompaticle reagents and reaction byproducts. However, without the typical aniline catalyst this reaction will not proceed at neutral pH (which is important for biological systems). Aniline’s use as a catalyst is in itself problematic though as it is not particularly soluble in water and is somewhat cytotoxic. Through this project, we aim to synthesize, characterize, and evaluate a novel suite of aniline catalysts (poly(ethlyene glycol) modified aniline molecules) for the oxime reaction. These catalysts will be evaluated for their solubility in water, catalytic capabilities in oxime-meditated polymer crosslinking, and their biocompatibility. 

Through this work, you will join a team that is working to create new biomaterials and polymerization mechanisms that are biocompatible! This work continues the work of a Mudd alum!

Check out this representative publication to learn more: 

Essay Prompt (~1 page total, due 24 hours prior to your scheduled interview): Why are you interested in working on this project? What skills do you hope to learn through this work? What skills do you bring to the group that support the project’s success? 

Name of research group, project, or lab
Microfluidics and Biomaterials Laboratory
Why join this research group or lab?

As a member of this group, you would work on projects that collectively build knowledge at the intersection of fluid mechanics, bioengineering, and material science and engineering. Together, our work seeks to build tools and materials for evaluating biological function in benchtop models to uncover biological function.

Logistics Information:
Project categories
Chemical Engineering
Student ranks applicable
Student qualifications

Students with a keen interest in organic chemistry and synthesis or who have taken organic chemistry (or those planning to take this course during this academic year) are encouraged to apply. Furthermore, students with interest in polymers and material characterization may also be interested in applying.

Time commitment
Spring - Part Time
Academic Credit
Number of openings
Techniques learned

Organic synthesis, oscillatory shear rheology, hydrogel design, experimental design, data analysis

Contact Information:
Mentor name
Mentor email
Mentor position
Name of project director or principal investigator
Steven Santana
Email address of project director or principal investigator
1 sp. | 0 appl.
Hours per week
Spring - Part Time
Project categories
Chemical Engineering (+1)
ChemistryChemical Engineering