Bioelectronic Innovations, Empowered by Chemistry

Bioelectronic Innovations, Empowered by Chemistry

UD Professor Laure Kayser received an NSF CAREER award to further her group’s materials science research

Whether it’s a smartwatch that can detect irregular heartbeats or a continuous glucose monitor, electronics that can interface with biology have already started to revolutionize the future of healthcare. But while the potential of these devices is far-reaching, the materials that make up future bioelectronics have to meet several different criteria — such as not causing damage or irritation to skin and avoiding toxic metals, for example.

Creating new organic, biocompatible materials that can interface with living systems is Laure Kayser, assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Delaware’s College of Engineering. Now, thanks to an award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), she and members of her lab will continue their fundamental research on a new class of polymers that could pave the way for future applications in human health.

The Kayser Lab specializes in designing, synthesizing and characterizing new plastics and polymers that can conduct electricity while safely interfacing with living systems. By working at the intersection of chemistry, polymer science and materials engineering, her lab is able to develop innovative design and synthesis approaches for creating new types of plastic materials.

Kayser, who holds a joint appointment in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, said that what sets her group apart from others in the field of organic bioelectronics is a strong foundation in organic chemistry and their ability to make any material they want instead of only being limited to what’s currently available.

“We do modern chemistry, including chemistry that is not necessarily typically used in the field, and apply it to materials science,” said Kayser. “Because we have a background in chemistry and synthesis, we can make any material, characterize it, establish structure-property relationships and tailor it so the material can be interfaced with biology.”

Design rules for electronic highways and ionic waves

Starting in July, Kayser’s group will be investigating a new type of organic bioelectronic material. With a five-year, $654,206 Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award from NSF, her lab will study the fundamental properties of polymers that have properties inspired by living systems and also meet the criteria for being able to be incorporated into bioelectronic devices.

For this project, the lab will be studying derivatives of PEDOT:PSS. This polymer belongs to a class of materials known as organic mixed ionic electronic conductors, which have the unique ability to conduct both electrons and ions.

This is a necessary yet difficult to achieve property for bioelectronics: Typical electronic devices, such as laptops or cell phones, use electrons to transmit signals, while systems in biology, such as nerves, use ions. This difference in communication methods makes it difficult to “translate” signals from electronic devices into ones that a cell or organ can interpret.

Laure Kayser (right), an assistant professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering and doctoral candidate Vidhika Damani working in the lab with PEDOT:PSS, a polymer with the unique ability to conduct both electrons and ions.

Laure Kayser (right), an assistant professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering and doctoral candidate Vidhika Damani working in the lab with PEDOT:PSS, a polymer with the unique ability to conduct both electrons and ions.

There are also engineering challenges in creating this class of materials, Kayser explained. “There are very different design rules whether you want a material to be an electronic conductor or an ionic conductor,” she said. “For example, electronic conductors are very well ordered — like a highway for electrons to travel down. But if you want to make a good ionic conductor, ions usually like to be on a floppy, almost liquid environment, so more like a wave.”

Members of the Kayser lab, including doctoral students Chun-Yuan Lo, Vidhika Damani, Dan My Nguyen, and Elorm Awuyah, were instrumental in getting preliminary results for the proposed research. The team recently published a paper in Polymer Chemistry (which was also featured on the journal’s May 21st 2022 cover), where they determined the role of different chemical properties in PEDOT:PSS and how they could be changed to make the material more efficient in bioelectronic devices, a key finding that showcased how the group’s expertise in this field could be applied to PEDOT:PSS.

Through the CAREER award, the lab will continue studying derivatives of PEDOT:PSS to gain a solid, fundamental understanding of how to control both electronic and ionic conduction. The long-term goal is to develop design rules for fabricating bioelectronic devices with this class of materials in the future.

“Our lab’s focus is to understand deeply how chemical structures affect the electronic properties of those materials,” said Kayser. “Through this grant, we’re going to learn a lot about these materials — some of these ideas might fail, but we’ll learn something along the way.”

Materials science outreach and education

With this CAREER award, Kayser will also be leading different outreach and educational initiatives for both high school students and undergraduates.

Part of this work will include connecting with female students at local high schools. This will be done through both a materials science-focused outreach program as well as a mentorship program, where graduate students and senior undergraduate students will be paired with high school students to provide support throughout the college application process.

Researchers in Laure Kayser’s lab recently published a paper in Polymer Chemistry (featured on the May 21st 2022 cover) where they determined the role of different chemical properties in PEDOT:PSS and how they can be changed to make the material more efficient in bioelectronic devices.

Researchers in Laure Kayser’s lab recently published a paper in Polymer Chemistry (featured on the May 21st 2022 cover) where they determined the role of different chemical properties in PEDOT:PSS and how they can be changed to make the material more efficient in bioelectronic devices.

Kayser will also be working with Sheldon Hewlett, an assistant professor who leads instruction and teaching in the materials science and engineering department, on integrating research into undergraduate curriculum. With support from the CAREER award, junior year materials science students will conduct a polymerization of PEDOT:PSS, including synthesis, purification and characterization, as part of a laboratory module. There will also be opportunities for students to address additional research questions during the course module, as well as funded research programs for those who are interested in carrying their work into the summer.

Along with introducing students to the process of polymerization, Hewlett added that this project will allow students to work with a class of materials in a laboratory course that they are likely to encounter in their career. “Not only will this award give us an opportunity for students to do real research, but it also provides students with a novel material system to work with,” said Hewlett. “You don’t see a lot of lab courses working with these polymers at this level — of making a material from start to finish, and then characterizing it afterwards.”

Making new discoveries through ‘great fundamental science’

“Chemistry will be central to the discoveries that Laure Kayser’s research group will advance on plastics and other polymeric materials through this NSF CAREER award,” said Joel Rosenthal, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Rather than simply tweaking or studying materials that already exist, the Kayser lab is adept at leveraging synthetic chemistry to discreetly control the composition, and by extension, the properties of new polymers for various applications, including bioelectronics. I’m incredibly excited to see how her group’s work will continue to develop over the next several years.”

Joshua Zide, professor and chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, added, “Professor Kayser is a fantastic contributor to the Materials Science and Engineering Department, and we are lucky to have her. Her research translates the chemistry to myriad important applications, and the perspective she brings is a huge benefit to the whole department.”

While Kayser is excited about the potential of her research to potentially impact a wide range of applications and fields, she is also looking forward to the “great fundamental science” that this CAREER award will enable her group to do.

“It’s a relatively hot area that is going to continue growing, so it’s a good place for us to be leading the pack,” she said. “I’m hoping that by learning more about the fundamentals of these materials, it might inspire others to explore different molecular designs and how they can be translated into devices. Overall, I think we’re going to make lots of really cool discoveries.”

| Photos by Evan Krape |

UD’s LaShanda Korley Appointed U.S. Science Envoy

UD’s LaShanda Korley Appointed U.S. Science Envoy

Esteemed engineer to travel the world to advance science and technology cooperation with U.S.

LaShanda Korley, Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware, has been appointed a U.S. Science Envoy for 2023. The announcement was made by the U.S. Department of State on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

Through the Science Envoy Program, eminent U.S. scientists and engineers leverage their expertise and networks to forge connections and identify opportunities for sustained international cooperation, championing innovation and demonstrating America’s scientific leadership and technical ingenuity.

Korley is among seven distinguished scientists who will begin service as U.S. Science Envoys in January 2023. Like their 23 predecessors, these esteemed scientists are approved by the Secretary of State and will engage internationally at the citizen and government levels to enhance relationships between other nations and the United States, develop partnerships and improve collaboration.

According to the U.S. Department of State, Science Envoys leverage their international leadership, influence and expertise in priority countries and regions to advance solutions to shared challenges. They travel as private citizens and help inform the State Department, other U.S. government agencies and the scientific community about opportunities for science and technology cooperation.

Korley is a global leader in applying biologically inspired principles and approaches to the sustainable use of polymer-based materials, including plastics. She is the director of the Center for Plastics Innovation, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy that is working to chemically transform plastic waste — a pollution problem plaguing the world — into fuels, lubricants and other valuable products.

She also leads Bio-Inspired Materials and Systems, a global project funded through the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for International Research and Education, which aims to develop programmable materials for soft robotic systems, and she is co-director of the UD Center for Hybrid, Active, and Responsive Materials, an NSF Materials Research and Science Center that is driving materials innovation in fields ranging from biomedicine to cybersecurity.

The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Korley is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society Division of Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering, and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. She received her bachelor’s degrees from Clark Atlanta University and the Georgia Institute of Technology and her doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She completed postdoctoral studies at both MIT and Cornell.

Joining Korley in the 2023 cohort of U.S. Science Envoys are Drew Harvell (Cornell University), Jessica Gephart (American University), Christine Kreuder Johnson (University of California, Davis), Prineha Narang (UCLA), Frances Seymour ( World Resources Institute) and Kyle Whyte (University of Michigan). The State Department announcement has more information about the other envoys.

 Photo illustration by Jeffrey C. Chase  

Joshua Zide named Materials Science and Engineering Chair

Joshua Zide named Materials Science and Engineering Chair

Professor and Graduate Program Director Joshua Zide is the new Chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Delaware as of July 1, 2022.

Zide joined the College of Engineering faculty in 2007, and also has an affiliate appointment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He received his undergraduate degree in materials science and engineering from Stanford University, and his doctorate in materials science from the University of California Santa Barbara. He is an expert in new materials and molecular beam epitaxy who complements his research with mentoring and university service. In 2022 he earned the Outstanding Doctoral Advising and Mentoring Award from UD’s Graduate College and the Faculty Award for Excellence in Service and Community Engagement from the College of Engineering.

Zide said he was drawn to UD’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, which was founded in 1998, in part due to the University’s vibrant and energetic environment, where he felt like he could play a role in shaping the future of the department. As it approaches its 25th anniversary, he said he’s looking forward to opportunities to bring in new talent and maintain a culture that is both supportive and welcoming.

“What makes our department so special is how incredibly collaborative it is,” he said. “Everyone aspires to collaborate, but there’s something special about a department where I’ve had an opportunity to collaborate with a huge cross-section of people, both in obvious and very-not-obvious projects.”

Zide, who also serves as Director for UD Materials Growth Facility, said he looks forward to working with and learning from all of his colleagues, within the department and beyond, on an enormous range of interdisciplinary challenges.

“There is a critical materials component to virtually every technological problem we face as a society, and so materials scientists and engineers have a critical role to play in virtually every new innovation,” he said. “More and more, problems require collaboration between materials scientists and colleagues in other fields. I’m also excited by the recent advances in computational materials. More and more, we can understand what we want to make and how it might perform before we actually make it. I’m very happy to see our department take such a leadership role in the College and the field at large.”

He succeeds Darrin Pochan, who joined the UD faculty in 1999 and has served as department chair since 2014.

In addition to his accomplishments at UD, Zide also serves as associate editor for the Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology, was named a Fellow of AVS (formerly the American Vacuum Society) in 2021, earned the Department of Energy Early Career Award in 2012 and was named an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator in 2009, among many other awards and accolades.

Advising and Mentoring Honors

Advising and Mentoring Honors

Joshua Zide was chosen for the 2022 Outstanding Doctoral Advising and Mentoring Award

Achieving a doctoral degree is a strenuous and demanding business that can strain every neuron a student can muster.

Having an adviser of the caliber of Joshua Zide, professor of materials science and engineering, who brings a unique blend of service, compassion and research excellence to the task, can make a profound difference for students.

For his commitment to student success professionally and personally, Zide has won the University of Delaware’s 2022 Outstanding Doctoral Advising and Mentoring Award.

The award is given annually to a faculty member whose dedication and commitment to excellence in graduate training have made “a significant contribution to the quality of life and professional development of graduate students” at UD.

“Josh’s style of mentorship is best captured by the concept of servant leadership,” doctoral student James Bork wrote in his letter of nomination, “which constitutes an inversion of the traditional boss/subordinate hierarchy. He believes that his role is to support us and our work, not the inverse. This is well illustrated by his repeated emphasis to us that ‘You don’t work for me. Instead, I work with you.’”

Zide heard something similar when he was a student and realized the impact that approach had on him. He was at a project review meeting and the comment came from his doctoral adviser — Prof. Art Gossard at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“He said, ‘I’m Art Gossard and I work with Joshua,’” Zide recalled. “Not ‘I advise Joshua’ or ‘Joshua works for me.’ Art is a famous, well-respected scientist who has had an incredibly distinguished career, and that single comment made me realize that the framing really matters and that I was the owner of my effort. I knew that was the kind of adviser I wanted to be.”

He has achieved that goal, his students say. They have high confidence both in his scholarship and the values he underscores as they work together.

“Josh’s unique student-oriented approach fosters an almost parental relationship with us students,” Bork wrote, “one where not only is our performance as a researcher important, but also our mental and emotional wellbeing.”

Those qualities were especially welcome as the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic bit into everyone’s lives, exacerbating already difficult conditions, Bork said. Zide offered assistance at every team meeting and kept in touch often by text or other messages to help students stay connected and navigate the changes, he said.

Zide customizes his advising methods to meet student’s different needs, doctoral student Lauren Nowicki McCabe said in her nomination letter.

“This could be either weekly or as-needed individual meetings, offering extra practice on presentations, extra attention given to editing student writing, tutoring in concepts from classes he didn’t even teach, running down to the lab as a sanity check during equipment maintenance, and the list goes on and on,” she wrote.

McCabe also noted Zide’s “dad jokes” — “which always helps everyone roll their eyes and feel at ease” — and the occasional visits of Zide’s dogs to help students de-stress.

“He has cheered with me when my experiments work, knocked on wood for the ones that we’re excited about and groaned with me when things went disastrously wrong,” McCabe wrote.

A student who was not among his advisees but took Zide’s course on Epitaxial Growth and Band Engineering in 2019, wrote that the experience was not only outstanding academically but also transformative personally.

Zide’s “expert guidance helped me to navigate through academic struggles and his kindred spirit and kindness helped me to regain my self-esteem and confidence,” wrote Kazy Fayeen Shariar, now an engineer with GlobalFoundries. “His mentoring and guidance ultimately helped me reach graduation.”

Zide’s research in nanoscale engineering, specifically in the use of molecular beam epitaxy for engineering new semiconductors and nanocomposites, has been recognized with awards throughout his career. Last year, for example, he was elected a fellow of AVS, recognizing sustained and outstanding contributions in materials, interfaces and processes.

As he excels in these endeavors, he brings students into that environment of excellence, helping them to hone their research skills, find their footing as scientists in advanced engineering and navigate the many challenges that arise along the way.

“I think that I excel in my research precisely because I enable my students to bring their best selves to their work,” he said. “Time management is, of course, always a struggle, but everyone has to choose what’s important to them and for me it’s making sure to look after people. Mostly, I can’t imagine someone coming to me and saying they’re in a crisis and saying, ‘Sorry, not my problem.’”

Bork said making time to help and care for others is central to Zide’s approach to research and life.

“He frequently encourages us to be ‘good neighbors’ to others and insists that time spent helping others is equally as important as time making progress on my research,” Bork said. “And while Josh would be slow to claim credit for the accomplishments of his students, it’s his example from which I’ve learned how to nurture my professional life without losing sight of the bigger picture and his supportiveness that enables me to do so.”

Zide has chaired seven doctoral thesis committees, two master’s thesis committees and served as a member of 45 other thesis committees in materials science and engineering and across campus.

His students have earned many significant awards, including competitive doctoral and graduate fellowships and awards for service, research, teaching and professional development.

“This impressive number of awards for his current and past students clearly is indication of his strong mentorship and energetic support of his students as they work in the classroom and laboratory under his leadership,” wrote Darrin Pochan, chair and professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, in his letter of nomination. “His students have also been excellent citizens of the department in both explicit service capacity as well as implicit support of the welcoming and vigorous culture.”

In addition to his research, teaching and advising work, Zide directs the Materials Science and Engineering Graduate Program, was co-founder of the popular “Words for Nerds” program that aims to help students excel in science communication, and is co-director of the Materials Growth Facility. He also serves as associate editor of the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology.

Zide, who joined the UD faculty in 2007, earned his bachelor’s degree at Stanford University and his doctorate at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

A ‘Hat Trick’ of Honors for UD’s Jayaraman

A ‘Hat Trick’ of Honors for UD’s Jayaraman

Three societies recognize her contributions to physics, chemistry, chemical engineering

With a passion for polymer research and teaching, Arthi Jayaraman of the University of Delaware often finds herself wearing a lot of hats — figuratively, at least.

“My research has me putting on different hats,” said Jayaraman, Centennial Term Professor for Excellence in Research and Education in the College of Engineering. “Sometimes I have to put on the physicist hat, sometimes the chemist hat, and always the engineering hat.”

In the past year, professional societies in all three disciplines have recognized her work and its value to their field.

  • The American Physical Society, which includes many of the world’s most prominent physicists, in March named Jayaraman as a fellow, an honor bestowed on those who have made exceptional contributions to physics. Such fellowships are awarded to fewer than 0.5% of APS’ more than 55,000 members in any given year.
  • The American Chemical Society selected Jayaraman to serve as deputy editor of its new, fully open-access journal ACS Polymer Au (Gold).
  • The American Institute of Chemical Engineers this summer announced that Jayaraman would receive the 2021 Impact Award, administered by its Computational Molecular Science and Engineering Forum (COMSEF), at the AIChE annual meeting in November.

Jayaraman leads a computational materials research lab as a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and materials science at UD.

She also loves to teach, loves to be in front of a crowd of eager learners and is devoted to sharing science with the broadest possible audience, making quality science communication a priority.

“I’m passionate about science, education and training our next best scientists,” she said. “I also believe that the science we create should be shared. I share that in my classroom and with my research community through our papers. I also strongly support that dissemination with a broader community around the world. This motivated me to take on this new editorial role in the new open-access journal ACS Polymer Au.”

What drives her in all these roles is her love for polymers, substances made up of long chains of uniform molecules. They are everywhere and make amazing building blocks, whether they are produced naturally (silk, hair, DNA for example) or synthetically (plastics, for example).

“They can be in tires, in rocket ships, on a plane and they can be designed to carry a drug into the human body,” she said. “We’re all made of biopolymers, chain molecules that have a unique chemistry programmed in.”

Working at different scales requires the kind of expertise her team has.

“Polymers have non-trivial structures at different scales — Angstrom scale, nanoscale and micron scale,” she said. “To study these materials computationally, one has to select or develop the right model that captures that structure at the scale of interest. One model doesn’t fit all, and that adaptability is something my group works on.”

Her computational expertise pulls many aspects of scientific inquiry together, but she especially cherishes her collaborations with two kinds of researchers, she said — those who synthesize polymers and those who characterize the materials in a wet lab.

One close-to-home example is Jayaraman’s collaboration with UD’s Kristi Kiick, Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. She worked with Kiick to characterize protein-like polymers, predict their stability and thermodynamic behavior in specific conditions and ensure they will behave the way Kiick and her team want them to behave in their biomedical research.

That points the way to new materials and better materials.

Computational skills are essential to advances in research and Jayaraman’s excellence in that work is reflected in the honors received from these three independent scientific societies.

Recognizing Jayaraman’s research accomplishments, APS cited her “insightful development and use of molecular modeling, simulation and theoretical studies of structure and thermodynamics in polymer nanocomposites, conjugated polymer blends, nucleic acids and thermoresponsive peptide-polymer conjugates.”

The Impact Award from AIChE COMSEF recognizes outstanding research in computational molecular science and engineering, including methods and applications.

The editing position with ACS Polymers Au reflects her leadership in polymers research and her communication skill. She and Associate Editor Prof. Harm-Anton Klok of the Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland, just released the first issue of the journal.

“Arthi is the complete package,” said Jan Genzer, S. Frank and Doris Culberson Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State, who nominated her for the APS fellowship and was a co-adviser for Jayaraman when she was a doctoral student at N.C. State. “She mentors her students and collaborates with a large group of people. Many of her collaborators are experimentalists and that’s very atypical for people who do simulation and modeling. She is highly sought after by my colleagues who do experiments.”

The daughter of an engineer and an educator, Jayaraman said she loved computer programming when she was growing up in Madras, India, and that lifelong skill along with her interest in chemical sciences has served her well.

“My parents were always supportive and were a driving force for me and my sister, who is an accomplished researcher in biophysics,” Jayaraman said. “I was fortunate to have that push and encouragement from my parents. We came from a lower-middle class family. My parents prioritized our education over luxury and that paid off.”

Jayaraman earned her bachelor of engineering degree in chemical engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India, and her doctorate in chemical and biomolecular engineering at N.C. State. She did postdoctoral research at the University of Illinois-Urbana. Before joining UD in 2014, she was an assistant professor and Patten faculty fellow at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Her other awards include the Department of Energy (DOE) Early Career Research Award and young investigator awards from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and the American Chemical Society (ACS).

| Photo by Evan Krape |