Joanna Aizenberg

Joanna Aizenberg

Joanna Aizenberg pursues a broad range of research interests that include biomineralization, biomimetics, self-assembly, crystal engineering, surface chemistry, nanofabrication, biomaterials, biomechanics and biooptics.

She received the B.S. degree in Chemistry in 1981, the M.S. degree in Physical Chemistry in 1984 from Moscow State University, and the Ph.D. degree in Structural Biology from the Weizmann Institute of Science in 1996. She then went to Harvard University where she did postdoctoral research with George Whitesides on micro/nanofabrication and near-field optics.

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In 1998 Aizenberg joined Bell Labs as a member of the Technical Staff where she has made several pioneering contributions including developing new biomimetic approaches for the synthesis of ordered mineral films with highly controlled shapes and orientations, and discovering unique optical systems formed by organisms (microlenses and optical fibers) that outshine technological analogs, and characterized the associated organic molecules. In 2007 Aizenberg joined the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Professor Aizenberg's research is aimed at understanding some of the basic principles of biomineralization and the economy with which biology solves complex problems in the design of functional inorganic materials. She then uses biological principles as guidance in developing new, bio-inspired synthetic routes and nanofabrication strategies that would lead to advanced materials and devices. Aizenberg is one of the pioneers of this rapidly developing field of biomimetic inorganic materials synthesis.

"In the course of evolution, Nature has developed strategies that endow biological processes with exquisite selectivity and specificity, and produce superior materials and structures," says Aizenberg. "This is wonderfully exemplified in the realm of inorganic materials formation by organisms, so-called 'biomineralization'. Learning from and mastering Nature's concepts not only satisfies humankind's insatiable curiosity for understanding the world around us, but also promises to drive a paradigm shift in modern materials science and technology."

Sutton A, Shirman T, Timonen JVI, England GT, Kim P, Kolle M, Ferrante T, Zarzar LD, Strong E, Aizenberg J. Photothermally triggered actuation of hybrid materials as a new platform for in vitro cell manipulation. Nat. Comm. 2017;8 :14700.Abstract

Mechanical forces in the cell’s natural environment have a crucial impact on growth,
differentiation and behaviour. Few areas of biology can be understood without taking into account how both individual cells and cell networks sense and transduce physical stresses. However, the field is currently held back by the limitations of the available methods to apply physiologically relevant stress profiles on cells, particularly with sub-cellular resolution, in controlled in vitro experiments. Here we report a new type of active cell culture material that allows highly localized, directional and reversible deformation of the cell growth substrate, with control at scales ranging from the entire surface to the subcellular, and response times on the order of seconds. These capabilities are not matched by any other method, and this versatile material has the potential to bridge the performance gap between the existing single cell micro-manipulation and 2D cell sheet mechanical stimulation techniques.

Hu Y, Kim P, Aizenberg J. Harnessing structural instability and material instability in the hydrogel-actuated integrated responsive structures (HAIRS). Extreme Mechanics Letters. 2017;13 :84-90.Abstract

We describe the behavior of a temperature-responsive hydrogel actuated integrated responsive structure (HAIRS). The structure is constructed by embedding a rigid high-aspect-ratio post in a layer of poly(Nisopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM) hydrogel which is bonded to a rigid substrate. As the hydrogel contracts, the post abruptly tilts. The HAIRS has demonstrated its broad applications in generating reversible micropattern formation, active optics, tunable wettability, and artificial homeostasis. To quantitatively describe and predict the system behavior, we construct an analytical model combining the structural instability, i.e. buckling of the post, and the material instability, i.e. the volume phase transition of PNIPAM hydrogel. The two instabilities of the system result in a large hysteresis in response to heating and cooling processes. Experimental results validate the predicted phenomenon of the abrupt tilting as temperature and large hysteresis in a heating-and-cooling cycle in the PNIPAM actuated HAIRS. Based on this model, we further discuss the influence of the material properties on the actuation of the structure.

Shillingford C, Russell CW, Burgess IB, Aizenberg J. Bioinspired Artificial Melanosomes As Colorimetric Indicators of Oxygen Exposure. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces. 2016;8 (7) :4314-4317.Abstract

Many industries require irreversibly responsive materials for use as sensors or detectors of environmental exposure. We describe the synthesis and fabrication of a nontoxic surface coating that reports oxygen exposure of the substrate material through irreversible formation of colored spots. The coating consists of a selectively permeable rubber film that contains the colorless organic precursors to darkly pigmented synthetic melanin. Melanin synthesis within the film is triggered by exposure to molecular oxygen. The selectively permeable rubber film regulates the rate of oxygen diffusion, enabling independent control of the sensitivity and response time of the artificial melanosome, while preventing leaching of melanin or its precursors.

Sunny S, Cheng G, Daniel D, Lo P, Ochoa S, Howell C, Vogel N, Majid A, Aizenberg J. Transparent antifouling material for improved operative field visibility in endoscopy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America [Internet]. 2016;113 (42) :11676-11681. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Inspection devices are frequently occluded by highly contaminating fluids that disrupt the visual field and their effective operation. These issues are particularly striking in endoscopes, where the diagnosis and treatment of diseases are compromised by the obscuring of the operative field by body fluids. Here we demonstrate that the application of a liquid-infused surface coating strongly repels sticky biological secretions and enables an uninterrupted field of view. Extensive bronchoscopy procedures performed in vivo on a porcine model shows significantly reduced fouling, resulting in either unnecessary or ∼10–15 times shorter and less intensive lens clearing procedures compared with an untreated endoscope.

Camera-guided instruments, such as endoscopes, have become an essential component of contemporary medicine. The 15–20 million endoscopies performed every year in the United States alone demonstrate the tremendous impact of this technology. However, doctors heavily rely on the visual feedback provided by the endoscope camera, which is routinely compromised when body fluids and fogging occlude the lens, requiring lengthy cleaning procedures that include irrigation, tissue rubbing, suction, and even temporary removal of the endoscope for external cleaning. Bronchoscopies are especially affected because they are performed on delicate tissue, in high-humidity environments with exposure to extremely adhesive biological fluids such as mucus and blood. Here, we present a repellent, liquid-infused coating on an endoscope lens capable of preventing vision loss after repeated submersions in blood and mucus. The material properties of the coating, including conformability, mechanical adhesion, transparency, oil type, and biocompatibility, were optimized in comprehensive in vitro and ex vivo studies. Extensive bronchoscopy procedures performed in vivo on porcine lungs showed significantly reduced fouling, resulting in either unnecessary or ∼10–15 times shorter and less intensive lens clearing procedures compared with an untreated endoscope. We believe that the material developed in this study opens up opportunities in the design of next-generation endoscopes that will improve visual field, display unprecedented antibacterial and antifouling properties, reduce the duration of the procedure, and enable visualization of currently unreachable parts of the body, thus offering enormous potential for disease diagnosis and treatment.

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  • Director of the Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology

  • Faculty Associate, Harvard University Center for the Environment

  • Participant, Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center

  • Participant, Materials Research Science and Engineering Center

  • Faculty Affiliate, BASF Advanced Research Initiative at Harvard
2017Havinga Medal, Havinga Foundation of the Leiden Institute of Chemistry of Leiden University, The Netherlands
2016Distinguished Professor Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands
2016Elected into the American Philosophical Society
2016 Honorary Doctorate and Professorship, Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands
2016Named Lectureships: Arthur Newell Talbot Distinguished Lectureship, UIUC; Marple Schweitzer Lectureship, Northwestern University; Closs Lectureship, University of Chicago
2015George Ledlie Prize for most valuable contribution to science, Harvard University 
2014Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, April 2014
2014Materials Research Society Fellow, February 2014
2014Alexander M. Cruickshank Award Lectureship, Biointerface Science Gordon Research Conference, June 2014
2013R&D 100 Award for Top Technology and Innovation in 2013
2013Fellow of the American Physical Society, March 2013
2013Hood Fellowship, University of Auckland, NZ, February 2013
2012R&D 100 Award for Top Technology and Innovation in 2012
2012Karcher & Barton distinguished lectureship, U Oklahoma, November 2012
2012Franklin Award Lectureship, RiceUniversity, January 2012
2011Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin Award Lectureship, University of Zurich, October 2011
2011The 2011 Sproull Lecturer, Cornell University
2011Dow Foundation Distinguished Lecturer, University of California, Santa Barbara
2011WISEST Visiting Scholar, University of Illinois - Chicago
2011Etter Memorial Lectureship in Chemistry, University of Minnesota,
2011The Woodward Lecturer in the Chemical Sciences, Harvard University
2011Distinguished Herbert Morawetz Lectureship, NYU-Poly
2010W. J. Chute Distinguished Lectureship in Chemistry, Dalhousie University
2010Molecular Foundry Distinguished Lectureship, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, Berkeley
2010The Eastman Chemical Company Award Lectureship, Goodyear Polymer Center, University of Akron
2010Distinguished Lectureship at the Bio-X "Frontiers in Interdisciplinary Biosciences" series at Stanford University
2010Jerome B. Cohen Distinguished Lectureship, Northwestern University
2010Distinguished Naff Lectureship, University of Kentucky
2008Ronald Breslow Award for the Achievement in Biomimetic Chemistry, ACS
2007Industrial Innovation Award, American Chemical Society
2006Outstanding Women Scientists Award, Indiana University
2005Lucent Chairman’s Award
2005Pedersen Award Lecture, DuPont
2004ACS PROGRESS Lectureship Award, University of Wisconsin at Madison
2003Distinguished Women Scientists Lectureship, University of Texas at Austin
2001New Investigator Award in Chemistry and Biology of Mineralized Tissues
1999Arthur K. Doolittle Award of the American Chemical Society (ACS)
1995Award of the Max-Planck Society in Biology and Materials Science, Germany

Positions & Employment 

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

  • 2007-Present: Faculty Member

Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies

  • 1998-2007: Researcher, Nanotechnology Research Department

Harvard University, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

  • 1996-1998: Postdoctoral Associate with Professor George M. Whitesides

Brookhaven National Laboratory, National Synchrotron Light Source

  • 1993-1995: Visiting Scientist

Moscow Institute of Geology, Moscow, USSR

  • 1986-1991: Researcher

Institute of Mining and Raw Materials, Moscow, USSR

  • 1984-1985: Chemist


    • B.S., 1981, Chemistry, Moscow State University
    • M.S., 1984, Physical Chemistry, Moscow State University
    • Ph.D., 1996, Structural Biology, Weizmann Institute of Science

Other Experience 

    • Director of Science Programs, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, 2010-2013
    • Member of the Board of Directors of the Materials 
      Research Society (MRS)
    • Member of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the 
      National Academies

    • Member of the Advisory Board of Langmuir