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Nanotechnology expert to speak at annual Science & Society Series April 15 at Whitworth

April 6, 2010
The 2010 Science & Society Lecture Series at Whitworth University will feature Mehmet Sarikaya, director of the Genetically Engineered Materials Science and Engineering Center at the University of Washington. Sarikaya will present a lecture, "Science at the Nano-Scale: Nanotechnology and its Implications for Engineering and Medicine," on Thursday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m. in the Robinson Teaching Theatre in Weyerhaeuser Hall at Whitworth. Admission is free. For more information, please call (509) 777-4263.

Nanoscience is the study of materials at the nanometer scale – one billionth of a meter – to understand the phenomena of how the size of inorganic materials and their surfaces produces new and interesting functions. Implementation of these functions in engineering is called nanotechnology and medicine. Sarikaya is a professor of materials science & engineering and chemical engineering at the University of Washington. His research revolves around molecular biomimetics, an emerging field in which hybrid technologies are developed using the tools of molecular biology and nanotechnology. Proteins, through their unique and specific interactions with other macromolecules and nanoinorganics, control structures and functions of all biological hard and soft tissues in organisms.

"During my Whitworth lecture, I hope to explain fundamentals of nanotechnology and its potential practical impact in many aspects of our lives," Sarikaya says. "I also plan to address the current trends and problems associated with the safe progress of nanotechnology and the work at our research center that brings together the traditional nanotechnology and molecular biology toward more versatile and robust implementations, both in engineering systems and in medicine."

Sarikaya and his team have discovered that through engineering proteins, they can construct materials molecularly the way nature does. Joining nanomaterials with biomolecules is difficult, because most materials, such as metals and ceramics, aren't compatible with biology, Sarikaya says. Instead of using the traditional molecular linkers, which are toxic, difficult to prepare and not durable, Sarikaya's research center is working on engineering peptides that act as glue, joining nanomaterials that have desirable engineering properties with biology, where biomacromolecules are the building blocks, similar to DNA, proteins and sugars. Genetically engineered proteins can now bind to specific molecules, and these proteins can be used in the assembly of functional nanostructures to make medicine more efficient and to build stronger materials. Plus, the products of this technology are all non-toxic and biodegradable.

Sarikaya says that nanotechnology is already advancing science in a multitude of ways. For example, there are already biosensors with more sensitivity than their older counterparts, thanks to nanophotonic effects; nanomagnetic devices are able to store more data than before; nanonelectronics have miniature multifunctional devices; and molecular materials are able to withstand more and complex mechanical forces toward novel applications, such as nanotubes-based nanocomposites used in the new Boeing 787. He says advances in nanotechnology also will inevitably affect several other technological revolutions, such as in energy, information technologies, biotechnology and medicine. Some of these advancements include compact, highly efficient energy devices; highly sensitive bio- and chemical sensors; molecular- and nano-probes for multifunctional cancer detection; and nano- and molecular-composite materials for structural applications.

During his lecture, Sarikaya also will address the risks associated with nanotechnology products and procedures. For example, although they are commonly used in cosmetics, the real effects of nanoparticles such as titanium oxide and zinc oxide in skin products such as creams are not well known, he says. In addition, although they are effectively used in pharmacology, drug-carrying nanoparticles such as gold, silica, magnetite and other materials that are dispersed in the body and the environment are not yet fully tested. Sarikaya says scientists and engineers are working with experts in fields that might be affected by nanotechnology, such as toxicologists and environmentalists, to examine carefully the potential effects of nanotechnology and to devise ways to implement precautionary procedures.

Sarikaya received his Ph.D. and master's degree from the University of California, Berkeley; he earned his bachelor's degree at Middle East Technical University, in Ankara, Turkey.

The Science & Society Lecture Series was created by Whitworth trustees, faculty and administrators to increase understanding and awareness of scientific advances and issues that influence areas including public policy, law, ethics and business. The annual series features experts who address current scientific issues that are of interest to the general public.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The college, which has an enrollment of 2,700 students, offers more than 55 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.


Julie Shanholtzer, Speakers and Artists Series and psychology department program assistant, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4263 or

Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or