Chiara Daraio, Ph.D

Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics

Friday, Nov. 13th at 2pm

Passcode: 211781

ABSTRACT: We propose a new concept for bio-composites’ fabrication, which uses living, undifferentiated plant cells, to produce materials with properties comparable to engineered woods (plywood, MDF) and commercial plastics. The use of “engineered living systems”, like bacteria, yeast and fungi, to fabricate materials sustainably is an emerging line of research. The approach aims at creating materials that combine the structural properties of traditional composites with attributes of living systems, including the ability to fabricate complex hierarchical structures, the ability to rapidly grow in-situ, and the potential to respond and adapt to external stimuli. We demonstrate this concept with living plant cells, because they offer an unprecedented genetic diversity and a rich plethora of multi-functionalities that may benefit engineering applications. For example, we have shown the fabrication of composite woods that are exquisitely thermally active: they are electrically conducting, and their conductivity changes with temperature, with sensitivity that is two orders of magnitude greater than any other temperature sensor. In our initial studies, we choose tobacco as a model system, as it is one of the most studied cell lines in plant biology. In the future, we envision extending this approach to genetically engineered cell lines and other plant species, to expand achievable properties and the range of functionalities.

BIO: Professor Daraio received her undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Universita’ Politecnica delle Marche, Italy (2001). She received her M.S. (2003) and Ph.D. degrees (2006) in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of California, San Diego. She joined the Aeronautics and Applied Physics departments of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in fall of 2006 and was promoted to full professor in 2010. From January 2013 to August 2016, she joined the department of Mechanical and Process Engineering at ETH Zürich, with a chair in Mechanics and Materials. She returned to Caltech in August 2016, as a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics. She received a Presidential Early Career Award from President Obama (PECASE) in 2012, was elected as a Sloan Research Fellow in 2011 and received an ONR Young Investigator Award in 2010. She is also a winner of the NSF CAREER award (2009), of the Richard Von Mises Prize (2008) and received the Hetenyi Award from the Society for Experimental Mechanics (2015). She was selected by Popular Science magazine among the “Brilliant 10” (2010). She serves as a Board Editor for Science (AAAS) and as an Associate Editor for the journals Extreme Mechanics Letters (Elsevier), Multifunctional Materials (IOP) and Frontiers in Materials (Frontiers).