The interface between materials science and nanotechnology for biomedical applications is not only exciting but tremendously useful because it can change people’s lives,“ says Patrick Stahl, a first-year Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) pre-doctoral student. Stahl studies collagen mimetic peptides (CMP)—short biopolymers made of the same amino acids found in natural collagen—with Michael Yu, associate professor of materials science and engineering and Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) member.
Stahl is a Nanotechnology for Biology and Medicine fellow funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) through INBT. The HHMI program trains students in nanotechnology, biology, and medicine to create diagnostics and therapeutics to detect, treat, and prevent human disease.
CMP forms a triple helix, Stahl says, that can be used to form nanoscale scaffolds to produce hydrogels upon which cells are coaxed to grow. “CMP creates both chemical and physical crosslinks. You can modify the mechanical properties and add biomolecules that will help cells proliferate,“ Stahl says. Ultimately, hydrogels could be implanted into living tissue to aid in wound healing or even organ regeneration.
Stahl enjoys the close knit atmosphere of MSE. “Many faculty members here are young, which brings a certain amount of energy to the program as well as a closer connection between students and professors. Furthermore, the collaboration between materials science and other departments enables unique, interdisciplinary research.“
A 2007 graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) with a BS in materials science, Stahl explored medical applications of engineering while conducting research on ceramic dental replacements. Through UMCP’s Gemstone Program—a four-year multidisciplinary research experience at its engineering school—Stahl helped analyze the chemical composition of over-the-counter ginseng products and created a patient education program to increase awareness about potentially dangerous interactions between herbal supplements and prescription pharmaceuticals.
When not working in the lab, Stahl enjoys playing sports such as tennis, golf and soccer. Although he has spent most of his life in Bethesda, Md., he says that many people are surprised to discover his international roots. “I was born in Geneva, Switzerland and spoke French and German long before I learned English,“ he says.
A life of science, however, was practically unavoidable for Stahl, whose parents both worked for the National Institutes of Health. “I guess you could say I grew up in a scientific household,“ he adds.