Researcher wins National Science Foundation award


Dr. Hendrik Heinz

Dr. Hendrik Heinz, assistant professor of polymer engineering at The University of Akron, received $181,000 (the first portion of a total $430,000 award) from the National Science Foundation. This CAREER award will fund Heinz and his student research team’s study of the molecular mechanisms of biomineralization, starting Aug. 1.

“Understanding nature’s ability to assemble complex and adaptive structures from peptides such as shells of mollusks, bone, teeth and selectively binding proteins is essential for the bottom-up design of medical implants, highly specialized sensors and drug delivery vehicles,” Heinz says.

The research will focus on the design of biomolecules for specific binding to inorganic surfaces and the understanding of biomineralization by molecular simulation, in collaboration with research groups in the U.S. and in the U.K.

Students gain hands-on learning

Heinz and his research team will study biomineralization processes at the nanometer scale by way of modeling and experimentation, taking an interdisciplinary approach using concepts from physics, chemistry, biology, polymer science and engineering, as well as computation and statistical mechanics. Heinz’s student researchers, ranging from graduates and undergraduates to high school pupils seeking mentorship opportunities, will be challenged to obtain insight into the self-assembly of inorganic-organic structures.

“This is essential for the design of new materials classes and deepens our insight into the function of living organisms,” Heinz says.

The grant also supports the development of new computational tools to understand biotic-abiotic interactions at the molecular level, which is difficult using experimental techniques alone, according to Heinz.

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