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April 2023

Thank you!

While the 2023 MRS Spring Meeting & Exhibit came to conclusion with the end of The Virtual Experience on April 27th, Meeting content will be available online to registered participants through May 31, 2023.

Our congratulations go to the 2023 MRS Spring Meeting Chairs Robert Blum, Tae-Woo Lee, Sierin Lim, Katharine Page, and Ashley White for putting together an excellent technical program along with various special events. MRS would also like to thank all the Symposium Organizers and Session Chairs for their part in the success of this Meeting. A thank you goes to the Exhibitors, Symposium Support, and to the sponsors of the Meeting and of the special events and activities.

Contributors to news on the 2023 MRS Spring Meeting & Exhibit include Meeting Scene reporters Kunwar Abhikeern, Ekaterina Antimirova, Sophia Chen, Alison Hatt, Grace Hu, Atif Javaid, Cullen Walsh, Elizabeth Wilson, and Richard Wu; bloggers Nabojit Kar and Anthony Salazar; and graphic artist Stephanie Gabborin; with newsletter production by Jason Zimmerman.

Thank you for subscribing to the MRS Meeting Scene newsletters. We hope you enjoyed reading them and continue your subscription as we launch into the 2023 MRS Fall Meeting & Exhibit, the 50th anniversary of MRS. The conversation already started at #F23MRS! Also follow #MRS50YEARS! We welcome your comments and feedback.

Symposium SB06: Peptide and Protein-Based Materials

Written by Richard Wu

David Baker, the University of Washington 

The Coming of Age of De Novo Protein Design 

Life on Earth depends on proteins. Proteins are large molecules assembled from building blocks, called amino acids, and are produced through a folding process that results in a complex three-dimensional structure, like origami. There are many different amino acids, each with particular properties such as size and charge, and the sequence of amino acids in a protein determines its structure and function.

However, given the complexity of proteins, it is difficult to predict protein structures from amino acid sequences alone. David Baker from the University of Washington is studying protein-folding and designing algorithms to predict protein structures. His laboratory has harnessed artificial intelligence to develop RoseTTAFold, a software tool that computes protein structures from amino acid sequences. From there, they have also worked on software approaches to generate new amino acid sequences which could fold into desired protein structures.

Baker’s research has led to the design of various artificial proteins that can block the flu and COVID-19 viruses, prevent the formation of Alzheimer’s disease-associated proteins, harvest sunlight for energy, produce light, and self-assemble into geometrically-shaped nanostructures. The design of artificial proteins is an exciting step forward in science, with the potential to transform numerous fields ranging from medicine to energy.


Ebru Demir, Sabanci University 

Self-Assembling Peptide Nanofiber Hydrogel as 3D Scaffolds for Corneal Stromal Cells 

Severe damage to the cornea of the eye, which can lead to visual impairment or blindness, is often treated with corneal transplantation. However, corneal transplantation is limited by donor tissue availability.

One alternative to corneal transplantation is tissue engineering. Ebru Demir from Sabanxci University has been investigating the use of peptide-based hydrogels as scaffolds for corneal tissue engineering. These hydrogels are gel-like materials containing water, similar to gelatin, and are synthesized from peptide materials, which are made from the same building blocks as proteins.

Demir’s experiments show that the peptide-based hydrogels are biocompatible, have similar transparency to natural corneal tissue, and are strong enough to support corneal cell and blood vessel regeneration. These properties make the peptide-based hydrogels a good candidate material for use in corneal tissue scaffolds.

Through this work, Demir and colleagues demonstrate how materials research can help advance the field of tissue engineering, thereby making steps toward improving human health and well-being.


Mohamed Soliman, De Montfort University and Cairo University 

Antimicrobial Activity of β-Sheet Forming Ultra-Short De Novo Ionic-Complementary Peptides Towards Wound Infections 

A significant problem facing medicine today is the rise of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. To address this public health challenge, Mohamed Soliman, from De Montfort University and Cairo University, is researching the antimicrobial properties of peptide-based hydrogels. Peptide materials are made from the same building blocks as proteins, and hydrogels are gel-like materials that contain water, similar to gelatin. These peptide-based hydrogel materials can kill bacteria by puncturing bacterial cell membranes, and yet are biocompatible and biodegradable.

Soliman and colleagues have found that their peptide-based hydrogels were effective at killing multiple infectious bacteria species, including P. aeruginosa, A. baumannii, E. coli, and K. Pneumoniae. These findings are promising and suggest that antimicrobial peptide-based hydrogels could soon help save lives.

2023 Innovation in Materials Characterization Award

Franz J GiessiblFranz Giessibl, University of Regensburg, Germany
Atomic Force Microscopy 3.0

Written by Sophia Chen

Franz Giessibl is the 2023 recipient of the Innovation in Materials Characterization Award. Over more than three decades, the physicist at University of Regensberg in Germany has worked to develop and popularize the technology known as the atomic force microscope (AFM), which has allowed materials scientists to characterize subatomic such as the shape of electron clouds. “As far as I know, it [has] the best spatial resolution of any microscopy,” Giessibl says.

But it took just about Giessibl’s entire career so far for the field to achieve subatomic resolution. He delivered a virtual presentation tracing the evolution of the technology. Giessibl began working on AFM as a graduate student at ETH Zürich under Nobel laureate Gerd Binnig, who won the prize for co-inventing the scanning tunneling microscope. (Giessibl chose atomic force microscopy over Binnig’s other two suggested research topics, gravitational waves or sequencing DNA using the scanning tunneling microscope. “What project would you have chosen?” he asked the audience.)

Binnig had co-invented the AFM in 1986, just prior to Giessibl joining his team. The microscope images a material by scanning the surface with an extremely fine tip on the end of a cantilever. Early models of the microscope used silicon as a cantilever material and could not achieve atomic resolution, Giessibl said. It also used a piezoresistive material that required significant electric current, and thus produced heat, to sense motion in the tip. This presented a technical challenge, as researchers were interested in studying materials in a cryogenic setting.

The field grew in the 1990s, with Seizo Morita of University of Osaka starting the International Conference on Non-contact Atomic Force Microscopy, which is still held today. Still, Giessibl noted that atomic force microscopes didn’t sell, with only about 80 sold worldwide at the time. During that time, he pivoted to management consulting at McKinsey in Germany to try to understand the business aspects.

During his time at McKinsey, Giessibl began to develop what is now the QPlus sensor, a new type of force sensor for the AFM. Instead of a silicon cantilever, the QPlus uses a quartz one. Instead of piezoresistive material, they use piezoelectric material, which doesn’t heat up as prior models. In addition, the QPlus sensor converts the surface of the material into a vibration.

In the early 2000s, more groups began to develop this new type of microscope with a stiffer probe. Giessibl noted that it was easier to convince scientists from the scanning electron microscopy field than from atomic force microscopy. In 2008, Giessibl and his colleagues measured the force it took to push a single atom. In 2009, Leo Gross of IBM and his team discovered that adding a carbon monoxide molecule of the tip improved the resolution.

At the end of the talk, Giessibl showed the progression in the AFM’s imaging capability with a series of photos from 1995 to 2015. There are now more than 400 atomic force microscopes with QPlus sensors worldwide, he said. He noted that the field has finally demonstrated subatomic imaging in 2015 and 2019, and that he is now working on achieving ultrafast time resolution with atomic force microscopy.

The Innovation in Materials Characterization Award has been endowed by Gwo-Ching Wang and Toh-Ming Lu.

Symposium SB05: Nano-Bio Interactions—From Design to Biological Response

Sebastien Perrier, the University of Warwick and Monash University 

Cyclic Peptide/Polymer Conjugates for Therapeutic Applications 

Written by Richard Wu

Peptides are small molecular assemblies made up from the same building blocks as proteins. While most peptides are naturally occurring, synthetic peptide materials have recently become a topic of research interest for various biomedical applications.

Sebastien Perrier, from the University of Warwick and Monash University, has been experimenting with using peptides to build nanotubes for therapeutic purposes. By chemically attaching small polymer materials to peptides, his research group has been able to develop self-assembling nanotubes. These nanotubes can deliver anti-cancer drugs to kill tumor cells and be degraded easily when exposed to a certain wavelength of light. In animal studies, the nanotubes were well-tolerated and could be excreted quickly through the kidneys, demonstrating that they did not accumulate in the body or cause toxicity.

These findings have the potential to advance cancer treatments that can more specifically target tumor cells and be better tolerated by the human body. In doing so, this work makes important steps toward improving the lives of cancer patients. 

Congratulations to the 2023 MRS Spring Meeting & Exhibit Best Poster Award Winners!

The following posters were selected by the Meeting Chairs on the basis of the poster’s technical content, appearance, graphic excellence, and presentation quality (not necessarily equally weighted).

Tuesday Poster winners are Sungjun Choi (EL03.04.07), Rand Kingsford (EL17.03.01), Laud Anim Adofo (EN04.03.01), Arit Patra (QM04.04.04), Tanvi Kaku (SB05.04.24), and Simok Lee (SF04.03.12).


Wednesday Poster winners are Sreya Paladugu (CH03.05.02), Yong-Jin Park (EL08.08.10), MinWoo Jeong (EL18.09.45), Jiwoo Kim (EL19.07.13), Jingxuan Ding (EN06.05.07), and Young Hyun Noh (SB06.07.02).


Thursday Poster winners are Junia Shelomi Solomon Shelomi Solomon Sathiaraj (EL04.09.07), Daesol Kong (EL08.12.06), Natpaphat Jarulertwathana (EL19.10.22), Kihyun Lee (MD02.07.02), Jinmin Kim (SB06.12.07), and Katerina Rose DeOlivares (SF05.10.11).

Virtual Poster winner is Seong-Yong Cho (EL17.10.06).

Symposium SF04: Development and Design of Responsive Architected Materials

Luis Rodriguez Alfaro, Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon 

Design of Solar-Driven Self-Cleaning and Antimicrobial Magnesium Oxychloride Cement Panels

Written by Richard Wu

Photocatalytic materials, which are materials that use light to facilitate a chemical reaction, have drawn interest in construction due to their potential to help reduce air pollution, dirt accumulation, and bacterial growth on the surfaces of building structures.

Luis Rodriguez Alfaro from the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon has been developing smart cement material alternatives to the Portland cement commonly used in construction today. His research group has been studying magnesium oxychloride cement (MOC), which is more environmentally friendly, mechanically stronger, more fire-resistant, and a better insulator than conventional Portland cement. By embedding the MOC with photocatalytic titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles, the researchers have produced a cement that has self-cleaning properties when exposed to sunlight. Their experiments show that when exposed to sunlight, the MOC with TiO2 nanoparticles was able to self-clean several different chemical pollutants and inhibit growth of E. coli bacteria.

While this work is still in progress, it shows that MOC with TiO2 nanoparticles has a lot of promise as a smart construction material. With its self-cleaning and antibacterial properties, the MOC with TiO2 nanoparticles could soon be used to construct cleaner buildings and cities. 

Symposium SB05: Nano-Bio Interactions—From Design to Biological Response

Thomas J. Webster, Hebei University of Technology and Saveetha University

Commercializing Nano Implants—Real Human Clinical Evidence of Success in the Spine 

Written by Richard Wu

Nanomaterials have shown promise for facilitating tissue growth, resisting infection, reducing inflammation, and killing cancer cells. However, most nanomaterials under scientific investigation have not yet made it to the market as viable commercial products.

Thomas J. Webster, from Hebei University of Technology and Saveetha University, has been designing, testing, and marketing surgical implants that utilize nanomaterial technology. His work has found that orthopedic implants can be treated through various processes to form nanoscale surface textures on the implants. These nanotextures mimic the nanoscale surface texture of bone, and not only reduce inflammation, but also inhibit growth of common infectious bacteria—including S. aureus, P. aeruginosa, and ampicillin-resistant E. coli—without antibiotics.

In rat studies, Webster’s research group found that rats with nanotextured implants had improved surgical recovery with reduced bacterial colonization compared to those in a control group. Subsequent human studies had similar findings—in 14,000 patients who received nanotextured titanium screw implants during orthopedic surgery, none developed screw failure, and in 4,000 patients who received nanotextured silicon nitride orthopedic implants, none developed implant failure. Webster’s findings pave the way for future applications of nanomaterials in biomedical devices.

Symposium SB01: Fundamentals and Applications of Engineered Living Materials

Kumba Bonga, the University of Genoa and the Italian Institute of Technology 

Fabricating Mycelium-Agrowaste 3D Composite Materials for Use in Building Construction Insulation 

Written by Richard Wu

Over a third of worldwide carbon emissions today are due to the construction industry. Recent efforts to make construction materials more sustainable have focused on renewable materials such as biomaterials for environmentally friendly buildings.

Kumba Bonga, from the University of Genoa and the Italian Institute of Technology, has been investigating the applications of fungal mycelia as a material for building insulation. Mycelium, which is a network of fungal threads, has many desirable properties as a construction material, as it can be grown cheaply from agricultural waste, is biodegradable, and does not leach toxic chemicals into the environment.

Bonga and colleagues have developed a process to grow the fungus Pleurotus ostreatus from agricultural waste such as coffee silverskin pellets, shape the fungal mycelium structure as it grows, and oven-dry to stop fungal growth. The resulting mycelium material exhibited similar insulative properties to conventional building insulation materials and was also found to be water-repellent.

This work shows that fungal mycelium-based materials, which are inexpensive yet sustainable, could make a great alternative for building insulation. As it turns out, mushrooms can be useful for more than just food!

Symposium SB05: Nano-Bio Interactions—From Design to Biological Response

Nguyen T.K. Thanh, University College London 

Plasmonic and Magnetic Nanoparticles for Biomedical Application 

Written by Richard Wu 

Nanoparticles, which are tiny particles between 1-100 nm in size, are attracting interest in biomedical research for their unusual properties. Nguyen Thanh from University College London has been investigating various clinical applications for nanoparticles. 

One use for nanoparticles is sterilizing hospital surfaces and items. Thanh’s research group has found that gold nanoparticles can be combined with a light-sensitive dye to kill E. coli bacteria in the presence of light. The researchers have also been able to use magnetic nanoparticles to separate pathogenic bacteria from liquids. 

Another application for nanoparticles that Thanh has been studying is cancer therapy. Since cancer cells tend to thrive in acidic environments, pH-sensitive nanoparticles can target cancer cells. These same nanoparticles can also selectively deliver anticancer drugs and treatments to kill tumor cells. 

Yet another clinical use for nanoparticles is medical imaging. Gadolinium, a contrast agent injected into patients to help visualize body structures on medical images, can cause side effects including kidney injury. Thanh’s research group has found that iron oxide nanoparticles could potentially serve as a lower-risk alternative to gadolinium in medical imaging tests. 

While nanoparticles may be small, Thanh’s research makes it clear that nanoparticle research has big implications for improving human health. 

Symposium SB03: Thin-Film Devices, Barriers and Their Reliability

Preeti Tyagi, North Carolina State University 

Exploration of Hemp Hurds Waste for Lignin-Containing Nanocellulose Based-Barrier Films for Sustainable Packaging 

Written by Richard Wu

Non-biodegradable packaging materials, particularly single-use plastics, are everywhere and a significant contributor to the problem of environmental waste. One potential solution could be cellulose nanofibers (CNFs), a type of material produced through mechanical treatment and refinement processes of plant fibers. However, production of CNF materials often requires expensive raw materials such as wood pulp and high energy usage, and the resulting final product tends to be very hydrophilic, meaning it is very sensitive to water and dissolves in water more easily.

Preeti Tyagi from North Carolina State University has been investigating manufacturing methods and materials properties of a new type of CNF called lignin-containing cellulose nanofibers (LCNFs). LCNFs can be produced from inexpensive agricultural waste such as hemp hurds and have a less hydrophilic molecular structure than conventional CNFs. Tyagi’s research group found that these LCNFs were less expensive to produce and displayed greater water resistance than more conventional CNFs, making the LCNFs more suitable for applications such as food packaging.

This research makes important steps toward helping achieve a circular economy, thereby advancing efforts to promote greater sustainability.