Issue Date: February 11, 2008
Ronald Breslow Award for Achievement in Biomimetic Chemistry
Sponsored by the Ronald Breslow Endowment
Joanna Aizenberg marvels at the complex designs and structures of living things. She unlocks the secrets of how biological systems build with inorganic materials, then she works to reproduce these methods synthetically through chemical processes.
"Nature keeps surprising us," the Harvard University professor says of her quest for "biological approaches that endow a device or structure we can only dream of in a synthetic world."
Take the deep-sea sponge called Venus' flower basket. Aizenberg and colleagues at Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs found that this creature's skeleton, made up of glassy threads, is engineered for strength from the nanoscale to the macroscale level (C&EN, July 11, 2005, page 12).
Then there is the brittle star, a marine animal that's a cousin to starfish. Aizenberg discovered that the brittle star's skeleton, in addition to providing structural support for the creature, acts as a sophisticated lens that focuses light onto receptor cells in the animal's insides.
These, Aizenberg says, are examples of "biological solutions to complex problems in design of multifunctional materials."
Aizenberg's work could lead to design and development of biomimetic materials that could be used for safe and long-lasting repairs of teeth and bone, says Eleni Kousvelari, associate director for biotechnology and innovation at the National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research.
"To those who aim to design and develop bioinspired, nanostructured composite ceramic materials using principles from nature, her original studies on biomineralization are invaluable," Kousvelari says of Aizenberg's research.
George M. Whitesides, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard, calls Aizenberg "a star." He says of his former postgraduate researcher, "She is the world's leading and most innovative figure in biomineralization" and in understanding the calcium carbonate and silicate skeletons of simple organisms.
Whitesides says Aizenberg has created an "entirely new field by herself-understanding the multiple functions of the mineral skeletons of marine organisms."
Aizenberg, 48, spent nine years at Bell Labs, Murray Hill, N.J. Last year, she moved to Harvard, where she wears several hats. She is the Gordon McKay Professor of Materials Science and professor of chemistry and chemical biology. Plus, Aizenberg is the Susan S. & Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Her research includes magnetic and optical properties of biological systems as well as nanoscale and subnanoscale designs.
Aizenberg says her interests in mathematics and physical sciences led to an undergraduate discipline that combines both-chemistry. She received a bachelor's in chemistry and a master's in physical chemistry from Moscow State University in what was then the Soviet Union. Aizenberg earned her doctorate at the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Rehovot, Israel, then worked two years as a postdoc at Harvard's department of chemistry and chemical biology under Whitesides.
In 1999, Aizenberg won the Arthur K. Doolittle Award given by the ACS Division of Polymeric Materials: Science & Engineering to authors of an outstanding paper presented before the division at each of the society's national meetings. She became a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2006.
The award address will be presented before the Division of Organic Chemistry.
- Chemical & Engineering News
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