The Huli Materials Lab is broadly interested in leveraging microorganisms to fabricate sustainable polymeric materials for applications in biotechnology, sensing, and protection. Our laboratory name, Huli Materials Lab, comes from the hua ʻōlelo (Hawaiian word), huli. Huli means to study, to change, and is a part of kalo (taro) that is replanted into the ground to produce new kalo. Kalo is a highly sustainable food source and traditional food staple for Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian people). Our group is inspired by the innate sustainability of the huli kalo cycle to develop sustainable polymeric materials.
Specifically, the next generation of polymeric materials will need features typically associated with biological systems, such as programmable, self-healing, and self-regenerating properties. While engineering synthetic materials with such capabilities remains a grand challenge, these properties are inherent to biofilm-forming bacteria, which use internal material factories to produce polymeric matrices with highly precise and complex structures and mechanical properties. However, establishing design rules for these materials has proven difficult due to their complex nature.
We tackle this challenge by developing characterization and processing methods tailored for quantifying and programing the properties of living polymeric materials. Our work is highly collaborative and multidisciplinary, combining expertise from mechanics, engineering, microbiology, materials science, and polymer physics.