Mussels inspire development of waterproof adhesives


Mussels on boat

Mussels, seen here attached to a boat, started UA researchers on an interesting path with their design of waterproof medical adhesives.

A team of University of Akron faculty has received $390,000 in National Science Foundation (NSF) funding to design and evaluate waterproof medical adhesives made from soybean oil.

Nature provides spectacular examples of adhesives that work extraordinarily well in wet and harsh conditions. Mussels stick to boats and rocks by secretion of protein-based adhesives that demonstrate adhesion even in the harsh marine environment.

Abraham Joy

Abraham Joy

Inspired by these marine creatures, Dr. Abraham Joy and Dr. Ali Dhinojwala and their teams have developed a synthetic mimic of mussel adhesives using soybean oil as a starting material, which is a renewable resource. Joy is an assistant professor of polymer science, and Dhinojwala is the H.A. Morton Professor of Polymer Science.

Adhesives, a multi-billion dollar industry, are made from petroleum-based starting materials, which is a depleting resource. Therefore, replacing with widely available and sustainable materials such as soybean oil provides with dual advantages of an adhesive that works in aqueous conditions and a high-value medical product.

Ali Dhinojwala

Ali Dhinojwala

“Our long term goal is to understand the molecular basis of adhesives that are effective in wet environments," says Joy. "The knowledge gained from such studies will provide the foundation for designing adhesives for various challenging applications — such as medical adhesives that will function in presence of body fluids.”

The team will use the NSF grant to gain a better understanding of the chemical and physical processes that are responsible for strong adhesion of this soybean oil-based adhesive in wet conditions.

NSF awards enable graduate students to gain expertise in techniques and methodologies that are at the cutting edge of their field. In addition, this award will provide research opportunities for undergraduate and high school students.

Media contact: Lisa Craig, 330-972-7429 or