Ben Nelson
Graduate Student
Chemical and Biological Engineering

Curriculum Vitae

Research Interests:

As a co-advised PhD student with the Bowman lab, I am interested in the synthesis of novel stimuli-responsive and reconfigurable materials for solving the problems of the future. I aim to use new chemistries for covalent adaptable networks in hydrogel networks along with traditional elastomers. Specifically, I have been focused on 1,2-dithiolanes, a ring-strained cyclic disulfide capable of photopolymerization with and without initiator. Upon photopolymerization, the resultant crosslinks remain dynamic, allowing for further manipulation of material properties.
 
In hydrogels, these chemistries are used for making materials that can more faithfully recapitulate the local microenvironment of cells. The dynamic bonds present enable control over a variety of relevant mechanical properties, including stiffness and viscoelasticity. Additionally, as a highly modular system, individual variables such as material composition can be varied while leaving mechanical properties unchanged. This system provides a valuable new tool for probing multiple mechanobiological inputs in tissue engineering.
 
In traditional elastomers, dithiolanes enable exciting advances in materials such as recycling and remolding of thermosets. As a covalent adaptable network, the individual crosslinks can be rearranged, allowing for the remodeling of fixed shapes. These materials also show promise to be recycled back to monomers, enabling continued use and lifespan increases compared to traditional crosslinked materials. Full deployment of dithiolane crosslinking promises to expand the capabilities of advanced dynamic soft materials.