Bio-material Pioneer Joanna Aizenberg Delivers Morawetz Lecture

The rainy weather gave Joanna Aizenberg, a Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences researcher and professor, the chance to point to yet another potential application of her research: water-repellent clothing.

The scholar was visiting as the honored guest of the CBS/CBE Distinguished Lecture Series, established by the Chemical and Biological Sciences and Chemical and Biological Engineering departments to recognize the contributions of NYU-Poly’s Herbert Morawetz to the field of polymer research.

Herbert Morawetz

Herbert Morawetz

While seasoned practitioners in the field of polymer research could delight in the historical tie between the two scholars, other attendees were just as enthralled by Aizenberg’s presentation, which touched on the connections between nanotechnology, biology and the physical sciences, as well as the possible application of those connections to novel electronics, photonics and tissue engineering, among other uses. For example, Aizenberg’s study of the brittlestar, a starfish made from crystals, inspired her to develop environmentally responsive, artificial microactuators that function like a starfish’s pedicellaria, those pincer-like structures that seemingly exist to prevent larvae or like animals from settling on its surface. By fabricating hybrid nano/microstructures that mimic the skin of a starfish, Aizenberg moves us closer toward new materials with reversible optical or wetting properties. Imagine, for instance, a material with anti-icing properties that can also blend in with its surroundings. The possibilities that could come from Aizenberg’s research led to enthusiastic exchanges with audience members, who peppered the scientist with questions. 

“I think it was really fascinating,” said Nicole Rivilis, a dual electrical engineering and chemical biomolecular engineering major. Arthur Frohlich, an electrical engineering major who attended the lecture with Rivilis, seconded his classmate’s assessment, saying “fascinating” was just the word he would use to describe the talk. “One of my goals now is to look up the stuff she mentioned,” he said, referring to the concepts and findings Aizenberg introduced.