Matthew J. Webber, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, has received a 2020 National Science Foundation Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, the highest honor given by the U.S. government to young faculty members in engineering and science.
Webber’s expertise encompasses supramolecular biomaterials, “smart” drug delivery and diagnostics, bio-inspired materials, and supramolecular chemistry. His work focuses on the development of novel materials, featuring bio-inspired properties or offering solutions for pressing problems in healthcare.
The purpose of Webber’s CAREER project, “Dissipative non-equilibrium supramolecular hydrogels using fuels,” is to create a new material paradigm at the intersection of supramolecular chemistry and soft materials. He and his team will be studying materials and systems that exhibit transient states and enable properties of material formation in the presence of a fuel or light source, which fall apart when the fuel is consumed or the light is turned off.
“It’s exciting to think about the possibilities for a new class of materials inspired by nature, which activate in response to specific cues but exist only for a short time,” said Webber. “Our first goal will be to understand more about the phase changes in these materials. What cues might influence precursor molecules to adopt a temporary structure? What types of intermolecular forces can be manipulated to activate such a structure? These are the engineering fundamentals we will be exploring.”
The proposal also includes an educational objective which focuses on building several modules to enhance training in scientific communication for graduate students in the chemical and materials sciences.
Webber graduated from Notre Dame in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and received his master’s (2009) and doctorate (2011), both in biomedical engineering, from Northwestern University. Prior to joining the Notre Dame faculty in 2016, he served as an NIH Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Webber also has received the American Diabetes Association Pathway Accelerator Award and the 3M Non-tenured Faculty Award in 2019. He was named an “Emerging Investigator” by both Biomaterials Science and Molecular Systems Design & Engineering. In 2017, he was named “One of 35 under 35” by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
At Notre Dame, he holds appointments in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Mike and Josie Harper Cancer Research Institute, Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics initiative, Warren Family Research Center for Drug Discovery and Development, and Notre Dame Nano Science and Technology.