A fundamental challenge in materials science is engineering durable adhesive bonds in a wet environment. Most synthetic adhesive systems suffer significant deterioration, even complete failure, in the presence of moisture, which in its broadest sense, ranges from surface hydration to immersion in body fluids or seawater. My long-term research goal is to develop the fundamental design principles involved in bio-adhesion, achieve translation to synthetic systems, and pioneer a systems approach to wet bonding that spans nano- to macroscale dimensions. The working hypothesis of our research is that formulating a practical wet adhesive requires the creative translation and fundamental understanding of two prominent features of marine bioadhesives: i) the role of dense surface-active polyelectrolyte fluids (coacervates) that remain phase-separated from water and undergo triggered solidification, and ii) the presence of polymer functionalities (e.g. Dopa) that provide energetic wet surface bonding.
Professor of Biochemistry, Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology