Former Gaucho and current Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Angela Belcher is coming back to UCSB next week to present a seminar on her work regarding materials science and biological engineering.
Belcher will discuss her most recent research, which involves modifying the DNA of viruses, on Monday at 2 p.m. at the Engineering Science Building, Room 1001.
Belcher is an alumna of the UCSB College of Creative Studies where she received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in 1991 and her Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1997. Her research has earned her many awards, including Scientific American magazine’s 2006 Research Leader of the Year, which has also been given to Former Vice President Al Gore, and the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship, a $500,00 grant given to fund research.
Belcher said she is mainly interested in developing new processes to build and assemble materials for use in more energy-efficient fuel cells and solar panels.
“I’m interested in developing new technologies that are environmentally friendly,” Belcher said. “It is more challenging to make more complex materials out of multiple elements and arrange them in specific ways at a nano and macro scale.”
Her interest in biomaterials research was inspired by an abalone’s ability to biologically incorporate calcium, an inorganic compound, into its shell.
“An abalone says, ‘How can I build a better shell?’ Not ‘I am a chemist.’ Not ‘I am a materials scientist,'” she said.
Meanwhile, Belcher said her interest in energy technologies comes from her commitment to lifelong learning. She said she developed a passion for knowledge and a unique approach to research in her time at CCS, which she said was “the most influential driving force in [her] career.”
“CCS doesn’t try to fit you in a preset box because you can combine disciplines you are interested in,” Belcher said. “It allowed me to explore and set the pace for how I look at problems now.”
Today, Belcher said, she balances her responsibilities as professor, researcher and mother and still finds time to continue learning.
“Based on interest and desire to want to be in a particular area … I figure out what I do well and find a bridge to another field,” she said.
In addition to her research in energy technologies, Belcher said she is interested in battery-powered textiles, cancer diagnostics and the detection and control of infectious diseases.
Belcher said her affinity for exploring a variety of disciplines allows her and her lab to analyze problems from multiple angles.
Belcher said her approach has brought many innovations that she will describe in her seminar.
“I love talking to undergrads,” Belcher said. “[I tell them,] ‘Follow your passion. Find an area so exciting you can’t imagine not pursuing it. Don’t be worried about not doing everything. There’s grad school afterwards.'”