CREST: Center of Excellence in Nanobiomaterials Derived from Biorenewable and Waste Resources
Center Project Summary
The research focus areas of this center are : (a) synthesis of plant based nanofibers through electrospinning and forcespinning™ methods; (b) production of bacterial cellulose fibers from soy waste products; (c) synthesis of nanoparticles from biodegradable sources such as egg shells and their use as nano-fillers in advanced composites; (d) synthesis of biopolymers; (e) development and characterization of advanced green nanocomposites using these materials with natural fibers; and (f) product design, prototyping and commercial feasibility studies. These efforts are carried out through three subprojects; 1) Synthesis and characterization of nanobiomaterials, 2) Synthesis and characterization of biopolymers and nanobiocomposites, and 3) Processing, performance evaluation and technology transition of green nanobiocomposites to products. The materials so developed will provide an alternative to the current generation of high performance ‘advanced’ composites materials which use thermoset polymers and man-made fibers like glass, carbon and Kevlar®. Further, these polymers are derived from petroleum, an expensive and scarce commodity, and composites are not biodegradable. Collaborators from within the USA include Auburn University (AU), Cornell University (CU), the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and several industry and national laboratories. International collaboration is built upon the existing relationships with researchers from Brazil and India.
We also propose to develop several graduate and undergraduate level course modules in the area of nanobiomaterials which will be incorporated in the existing curricula, and develop a robust education and outreach program to train/educate K-12 and community college students and teachers. The proposed Center will also provide significant boost to the PhD program in Materials Science and Engineering at Tuskegee University (TU), which was established with the previous CREST funding from NSF. Since the inception of the program in 1998, TU has produced 21 PhDs. All of them are currently gainfully employed in academia, industry, government and national laboratories. The proposed center of excellence is a significant shift in activities from the previous CREST center at TU which dealt with synthesis, modeling, and characterization of polymer nanocomposites using synthetic materials.
The intellectual merits of this proposal lie in the fact that the development of biodegradable nanofibers, nanoparticles, nanobiopolymers and their characterization, processing and characterization of advanced green composites will provide significant knowledge that can be used to develop new applications in automotive and building industries. The processes and knowledge developed through the three subprojects will help in diversifying the research portfolio into other fields such as drug delivery, packaging, wound healing, and pharmaceuticals that will result in sustaining the center beyond the funding period. The materials developed will provide an environment-friendly alternative to currently used synthetic, non-biodegradable, petroleum based fiber reinforced composites. A diverse group of nationally and internationally recognized scientists and engineers has been assembled to pursue state-of-the-art research and education endeavors through three synergistically linked subprojects.
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The broader impacts of this project include production of a large number of graduates with BS through PhD degrees that include a significant number of minorities and women. These graduates will be adequately trained in emerging areas of nanobio science and technology with excellent communication and interpersonal skills. Such graduates will become excellent role models for many young students and help bring much-needed diversity to the nation’s advanced technological workforce. Broader societal impact includes reduced dependence on petroleum products, utilization of waste products to produce engineering materials and products, and a partial solution to landfill problems. The publications resulting from research findings will contribute significantly to the world’s knowledge in nanobio science and technology. It is also anticipated that the knowledge gained by the faculty members and students will eventually result in development of new businesses, which will result in a profound impact on the economic development of the region, the state and the nation.