Alshakim Nelson receives NSF CAREER Award

Assistant Professor Alshakim Nelson has received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. The CAREER (Faculty Early Career Development) Program is a Foundation-wide program that “offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

Professor Nelson applies his expertise in organic chemistry, polymer chemistry, and supramolecular chemistry to design stimuli-responsive materials for life science applications. Using interdisciplinary approaches such as living anionic polymerizations, rheological characterization, culturing microbes, and direct-write 3D printing, the Nelson research group is leveraging the stimuli-responsive behavior of materials to facilitate their fabrication or patterning. Ongoing work includes the development of polymer-living cell composite materials (“living materials”) and polymers to create anatomical models for human tissue.

Professor Nelson’s NSF CAREER proposal, “CAREER: Supramolecular engineering of hydrogel forming triblock copolymers,” aims to elucidate molecular-level design principles that can govern and control the physical properties of hydrogels. Improved understanding of the properties of hydrogels—soft materials largely comprised of water with numerous health-related uses (e.g., hygiene, contact lenses, medical implants, wound care)—will foster new design strategies for this important class of materials. In addition to the scientific goals, this project aims to expand access to and interest in polymer science for pre-college and college students and increase diversity within the field. Efforts will include the creation of educational modules to introduce polymer science to K-12, undergraduate, and graduate students, the engagement of disadvantaged and under-represented groups in STEM, and an emphasis on teacher training to maximize the overall impact of this project. 

For more information about this NSF CAREER Award, please visit the award website.

For more information about Professor Nelson and his research, please visit his faculty page and research group website.

Recent work by Alshakim Nelson published in The Economist

Recent work by Assistant Professor Alshakim and colleagues was published on July 6 in the Science & Technology section of The Economist (“Print me a brewery”), as well as in Geekwire and Digital Trends.

Yeast and other microbial species have long been used in a variety of industrial applications, ranging from alcohol fermentation to pharmaceutical and protein production. Fermentation is typically performed as a batch process, wherein the cells and the necessary metabolites are all introduced into a stirred reactor. Professor Nelson and his research team (Dr. Abhijit Saha, Trevor Johnston, and Ryan Shafranek) developed a process to 3D print yeast cells immobilized within a hydrogel lattice, which could be used for fermentation processes. The advantage of this approach is that these yeast-immobilized 3D printed lattices can potentially reduce reactor downtime, minimize product inhibition, and reduce the total footprint of the reactor. The yeast cells are incorporated into the hydrogel under mild conditions while maintaining the viability and metabolic activity of the embedded cells. The Nelson group has shown that these 3D-printed bioreactors are capable of fermenting solutions of glucose into ethanol, continuously, for upwards of three months.

Future work in this area by the Nelson group will include exploring the lifetimes of the bioreactor devices, while also expanding the portfolio of compounds that the reactors can produce, and the species of microbes they can maintain. Eventually, the group would like to implement these printed reactors in continuous fermentation reactors to produce high-value chemical targets.

To learn more about Professor Nelson and his research, visit his faculty page or research group website.

Alshakim Nelson to join faculty

Alshakim NelsonWe are delighted to announce that Dr. Alshakim Nelson will be joining the Department as Assistant Professor of Chemistry for the 2015-16 academic year. Dr. Nelson completed his undergraduate studies in chemistry at Pomona College in 1999. He received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of California at Los Angeles in 2004, where he studied carbohydrate-containing polymers and macrocycles with Professor J. Fraser Stoddart. He was then an NIH postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology working for Professor Robert Grubbs on olefin metathesis catalysts for the formation of supramolecular ensembles. Dr. Nelson joined IBM Almaden Research Center as a Research Staff Member in 2005, where he focused on synthesizing building blocks that enable large area nanomanufacturing via self-assembly. His research interests also include silicon-based polymers for lithographic applications, magnetic nanoparticles, directed self-assembly of nanoparticles, and hydrogen bonding block copolymers. Dr. Nelson has over 40 publications and 11 issued patents, and in 2011 he was designated as an IBM Master Inventor. In 2012, he became manager of the Nanomaterials Group, which includes the Synthetic Development Lab.

Dr. Nelson will begin his research program at the University of Washington in September 2015. His research will focus on the synthesis, characterization, and patterning of polymeric and supramolecular materials for the bio-interface.

For more information about Dr. Nelson and his research, please contact him directly via email.