MSE Seminar Series Presents - Prof. Ting Xu

Tuesday, May 03, 2022 at 2:00pm to 3:00pm

Building 6, 6-104, Chipman Room
182 MEMORIAL DR (REAR), Cambridge, MA 02139

Title: Plastics: A Bittersweet Tale of the 20th Century

Abstract: Since the perception of “macromolecule” concept in 1920s, plastics have completely changed how we live and will continue to impact our daily lives for years to come. Nearly 40% of synthetic polymers serve as packing materials which ultimately became the biggest contributor to the plastic waste crisis. Biodegradable plastics have been marketed to replace commodity plastics with increased production and cost reduction. However, they are indifferentiable in landfills and in some cases, accelerated formation of microplastics.

We recently showed that by nanoscopically confining enzymes in semi-crystalline polyesters and exploiting enzyme-active-site features and enzyme-protectant interactions, processive depolymerization can be enabled as the primary degradation pathway with expanded substrate selectivity. These studies demonstrated great potential of protein-based materials. They also raised questions on how to molecularly interface biological building blocks, such as proteins and biomachineries, with polymers. I will discuss our decade-long journey to understand inherent connections between synthetic and biological macromolecules and share evolving thoughts on how to build a harmonious future together.

Bio: Prof. Ting Xu received Ph.D from the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2004. Her postdoctoral training focused on de novo protein design, jointly between the University of Pennsylvania and the Cold Neutron for Biology and Technology (CNBT) team at NIST from 2004-2006. She jointed University of California, Berkeley in 2007 as Assistant professor in both the Department of Material Sciences and Engineering and Department of Chemistry and rose to the rank of full professor in 2016.

Prof. Xu's research interests rest at the interface among soft matter, biology, material chemistry and engineering. Her research efforts focus on understanding assembly process in multi-component systems and applying the fundamental knowledge to control the assembly kinetics and pathways to generate hierarchically structured nanomaterials with built-in functionalities. Researchers in Xu's group take advantage of the recent developments in polymer science, protein science, synthetic biology, and nanoparticles synthesis and manipulation, and apply them to establish chemistry-structure-property relationship and generate functional materials for life science, environment and energy applications.

Prof. Xu is a fellow of American Physical Society, American Chemical Society and serves on the Board of Directors of Materials Research Society since 2020. She was named as one of “Brilliant 10” by Popular Science Magazine in 2009. She is the recipient of awards including 2008 3M Nontenured Faculty Award; 2008 DuPont Young Professor Award; 2009 Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award; 2010 Li Ka Shing Woman Research Award; 2011 Camille-Dreyfus Scholar-Teacher Award; 2011 ACS Arthur K. Doolittle Award, 2018 Bakar Fellow and 2021 Bakar Prize. For their development of compostable plastics,  her team was awarded the grand prize of the 2021 Create the Future Design Contest among entries from 55 countries.


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engineering, Seminar, materials science

Materials Science and Engineering Seminar Series
Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE)


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