It's not unusual for scientists to take their cues from nature. In fact, Jeff Rimer is building much of his career on such cues.
Rimer, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering with the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering, is an expert in the field of crystallization. The processes behind crystal growth and formation impact everything from drug development to chemical synthesis to medical diseases such as kidney stones and malaria.
One of the primary efforts of Rimer's lab involves a class of crystals known as zeolites. These are widely used by the chemical and petrochemical sector as catalysts, which initiate or speed up chemical reactions. A material will diffuse through pores in a zeolite crystal, react with specific sites in the crystal interior, and then exit, transformed into a more useful chemical. Rimer is attempting to control how zeolites grow in order to make them more efficient catalysts for commercial reactions.
"The original work I performed with modified zeolite synthesis was inspired by processes in natural mineral formation," said Rimer. "Sponges and diatoms form amorphous silica exoskeletons. They possess elaborate hierarchical structures that are created through specific interactions with proteins."
Rimer, then, has identified and developed a number of molecules that, in a similar manner, alter the growth and shape of zeolites in order to optimize their catalytic properties. He has won multiple grants supporting this work (including a National Science Foundation CAREER Award), has published extensively on his findings and is even pursing a patent for a method to rationally design new zeolites.
Rimer's latest grant in this area comes from the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation, an independent body formed though an agreement between the two countries. He and his collaborator, Galia Maayan from the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology (often
|Contact: Jeannie Kever|
University of Houston