MIT Club of Northern California

Hear the amazing story of how Professor Belcher uses genetically-engineered viruses to biologically assemble new materials at nano-structure scale for applications as diverse as lithium ion batteries and solar photovoltaic cells!

Organisms have been making exquisite inorganic materials for over 500 million years. This talk will address conditions under which organisms first evolved to make materials and her scientific approaches to move beyond naturally-evolved materials to genetically manufacture advanced materials using a “green” process.

There are many properties of living systems that can be harnessed by researchers to make advanced materials; Prof. Belcher’s approach is to evolve organisms to work with a diverse set of building blocks. Her goal is to have a DNA sequence that codes for assembly of any inorganic material, typically using an M13 virus as a template.

Two energy-related applications she is investigating are: 1) using bio-molecular recognition, attach electrochemically active materials to conducting carbon nanotubes networks to boost electron transfer in metal phosphate cathodes for rechargeable lithium ion batteries and 2) improve the efficiency of solar cells by using biologically-assembled nanocomposites with high electron mobility to efficiently collect photo-generated electrons. She will also demonstrate how these novel processes can be used in life science applications, such as ovarian cancer detection.


Professor Belcher is a Materials Chemist with expertise in the fields of biomolecular materials, organic-inorganic interfaces and solid state chemistry. Her primary research focus is evolving new materials for energy, electronics and the environment. She received her B.S. in Creative Studies with an emphasis in biology from The University of California, Santa Barbara. She continued her education at UCSB and earned a Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry (1997). Following a year of postdoctoral research in electrical engineering at UCSB, Dr. Belcher joined the faculty at The University of Texas at Austin in the Department of Chemistry in 1999. She joined the faculty at MIT in 2002 and now holds the W.M. Keck Chair in Energy. In 2002, she founded the company Cambrios Technologies, Inc., and in 2007 she founded Siluria Technologies, Inc.

In 2012, Dr. Belcher was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She also received the Boston Museum of Science “Walker Prize” for lifetime achievement in science. In 2010 Dr. Belcher received the Eni Prize for Renewable and Non-conventional Energy. In 2009, Rolling Stone Magazine listed her as one of the top 100 people changing the country. In 2007, Time Magazine named her a “Hero”- for her research related to Climate Change. In 2006, she was named Research Leader of the Year by Scientific American and was awarded a 2006 Popular Mechanics Breakthrough award. In 2005, she was named as one of 10 to watch by Fortune magazine for "how the world will work in the next 75 years.”

Her work has been published in many prestigious scientific journals including Science and Nature, and has been reported in the popular press including Time, Fortune, Forbes, Discover, Scientific American, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Washington Post, Business Week and The Wall Street Journal.


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