MIT SoE — Lord Foundation Undergraduate Research and Innovation Scholar
Microstructural Origin of High Toughness in Protein Hydrogel
Protein-polymer hydrogels are particularly promising in tissue engineering as injectable stem cell scaffolds. However, poor mechanical strength limits their use in real biological systems, and approaches to increase their energy absorption are largely empirical. As a step toward theory-based design of tough protein gels, we aim to develop mechanistic understanding of gel toughness by elucidating the polymer chain movements underlying the remarkable extensibility (up to 3000% engineering strain) of a gel recently developed at the Olsen lab. We look for a correlation between strain hardening and stress birefringence. Experimental techniques include polarized optical microscopy and depolarized laser light scattering, which we are engineering to probe samples during tensile strain.
I am excited to show how these gels work. I’ve been interested in biomedical engineering since high school, where I helped develop point-of-care microfluidic chips for electrical blood diagnostics with Pr. Rashid Bashir at UIUC.