Michigan Tech Research Forum

Spring 2019 Distinguished Professor - Dr. Jaroslaw Drelich

April 10, 2019 | Theme: Surfaces, Materials and Metals 

Lecture presented by  Distinguished Professor Jaroslaw Drelich: Surfaces and Interfaces: Building Blocks of Nature and my Research World

TechTalks presented by inter-disciplinary collaborators:

  • Jeremy Goldman, Biomedical Engineering  [read more]
  • Feng Zhao, Biomedical Engineering [read more]
  • Tim Scarlett, Social Sciences [read more]
  • Timothy Eisele, Chemical Engineering [read more]

Research Statement: I have been playing with surfaces and interfaces since childhood. The amusement of striders walking on the surface of ponds, of the dew decorating mystifying spider webs, and of the strength and texture of the skin on fruits activated my curiosity, and later my research interests. Over the years, I explored the protective nature and functionality of surfaces and, most recently, manipulation of interfaces in crystalline materials. In this talk, I will present examples on fabrication of water repelling coatings, discuss transformations taking place in the science of contact angles, and review our innovative biodegradable metals for medical applications. 

Six Questions with Distinguished Professor Jaroslaw Drelich

Q1. You have a strong focus in your work on the engineering of materials and surfaces. How did you come to choose this path? Or, did it choose you?
I re-invented myself and found my passion for research and science at the end of my BS degree program as a chemistry major at the Technical University of Gdansk in Poland. In the middle of my junior year, I was asked to choose a laboratory and adviser and select the research topic for my MS degree program. Without any previous research experience, but with a driving motivation to elude a professional career in chemical factories, and determined also to combat pollutions of fishing streams, lakes and the Baltic sea, a team of researchers working on design and commercialization of equipment and materials for removal of spilled and dispersed oils from the environment and industrial wastewater streams attracted my attention. Since the first semester in my master program I received unprecedented trust and support from my advisers, who somehow sensed research talent in me, even if I was just an average undergraduate student. I remember how difficult it was for me to leave the lab and how eager I was to come back every morning, usually ahead of other students and employees since I started experimentation on oil absorbing materials. It was then when I established my passion for surfaces and wetting phenomena and this fascination with manipulation of surfaces, along with an aspiration to understand capillary and wetting phenomena, still fascinates me to this day. It was also then when dreams of publishing one paper in the Journal of Colloid and Interface Science (JCIS) occupied my mind for the first time. I was eventually able to publish several papers in JCIS as well as in many other high-impact factor journals, but not until I entered into a PhD degree program in Metallurgical Engineering at the University of Utah.

On the contrary, focus on materials, especially biomaterials, dates back to the early days of
the newly established Department of Biomedical Engineering at Michigan Tech. This was the
result of very fruitful collaborations with several faculty from this new department on campus and my attempt to develop a supplementary research niche to my surface science and engineering program. Currently, the studies on development of new resorbable biomaterials have dominated my research activities since 2011.

Q2. How do your research and teaching complement each other?
The establishment of quality teaching requires enthusiasm, as well as appropriate
fundamental and practical knowledge of the course subject. Already in my early career at
Michigan Tech, I recognized that students learn science and engineering of surfaces and
materials better and much more efficiently when the instructor refers in teaching to their own research and industrial projects. The passion and deep knowledge of the instructor during analysis of their own projects and experience gained when serving the needs of industry spread among students and enhance their learning capabilities.

Q3. What has changed the most in your field over the past decade (or two)? 
In my opinion, the recent progress in the field related to surfaces and interfaces is driven by
computer simulation techniques which, ultimately, will substantially reduce the amount of
experimentation needed in the future by designing and predicting functionality and
characteristics of materials and their surfaces. They will also provide strong validation of
experimental tests and results.

Q4. What is the biggest challenge in your fields of expertise? 
Development of materials with smart, functional, and self-repairing surfaces that are
compatible and responsive to changes in surrounding environment, but are also durable.

Q5. How does Michigan Tech work for you as a home base? 
I have been fortune enough to work and interact with numerous enthusiastic collaborators
from various disciplines and programs on campus including archeology, biomedical
engineering, chemistry, chemical engineering, civil engineering, environmental engineering,
forestry, geology, mechanical engineering, and physics. Michigan Tech campus is very unique in this category, where no faculty and staff close their door to others seeking advice and help in research and beyond.

Additionally, over the years, and especially recently, I have received multiple support from my department, college of engineering, and university through instrumentation funds,
scholarships awarded to undergraduate researchers, and teaching assistantships to graduate students, which help me to keep my research programs active. My department has also found the right teaching vs research balance for me allowing me to spend some time abroad and visit my international collaborators.

Q6. What's next in your research?
My primary goal for the next few years is to finalize development and perhaps even
commercialization of biodegradable implants. My recent efforts have concentrated on
resorbable vascular scaffolds, but I have also moved towards orthopedic applications of
biodegradable metals. My collaboration with Prof. Jeremy Goldman in this program has
already concluded four NIH grants with one more on the way, so I am confident that we will
make at least a lot of scientific and engineering progress on development of biodegradable
implant materials. 

My second personal challenge is to develop a research program on design of artificial
materials and systems inspired by natural materials and biological systems. I personally love our green Upper Peninsula and spend many hours outdoors for fishing, camping and hiking. I believe that such a nature-inspired materials program could excite and attract to my research many undergraduate students that enjoy outdoor activities and appreciate the environment in which we live. I have already made the first step in this direction, but accomplishment of this initiative will be dictated by success in receiving external funding.


Jeremy Goldman
Biomedical Engineering

“Development of Biodegradable Stents Based on Zinc”

Degradable metals based on zinc are being developed at Michigan Tech to replace the permanent materials that are presently in clinical use.  Here we describe novel methods to evaluate and compare the biocompatibility of zinc-based materials engineered with experimental properties.

Feng Zhao
Biomedical Engineering

“ZhaoLab Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials Research”

The Zhaolab’s research is focused on tissue engineering and biomaterials.  In this Tech Talk, I will briefly introduce my lab’s recent progress, with a focus on our collaborative research with Dr. Jarek Drelich that has characterized the biocompatibility of the stent materials using in vitro cell culture techniques. 

Tim Scarlett
Social Sciences 
“Archaeological Science and Creative Process: Student-Centered Learning at the Intersection of the Human/Social, Natural, Digital, and Designed/Built Worlds”

Both the most interesting and creative research projects and the most profound learning events begin with “what if?...” or “that is so cool! I wonder if….” Recent and current archaeological research at Michigan Tech is conceptualized around multidisciplinary undergraduate and graduate student learning. Project mix faculty from Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Materials Science, Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences, Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, and the School of Technology, among others. The presentation will begin with two mature projects: examining the nano-scale rehydroxylation
of fired-clay minerals from archaeological ceramics and the application of supercritical and subcritical CO2 treatments for the stabilization of decaying ferrous metal artifacts. Following these examples, Dr. Scarlett will summarize two projects that developed in his classes this fall, including the extraction and quantification of paleofecal stanols and other digested cholesterols from lake sediments as a measure of population change over time and the amplification of non-human ancient DNA from archaeological artifacts. The presentation is framed as an exploration of how discovery-based learning among teams students can both contribute to a field of academic research while also requiring students to shift among
different domains of knowledge as they contextualize their study and improve their understanding of the world.

Timothy Eisele
Chemical Engineering

“Sustainable Iron and Steelmaking”

Iron and steel alloys account for roughly 95% of all of the metal used worldwide. While iron and steel are highly recyclable, the methods for producing them from ores are entirely dependent on fossil fuels (coking coal and natural gas). As a result, their production is not currently sustainable. To correct this, technologies are being developed at Michigan Tech to replace fossil fuels with renewable reductants such as biomass, and to make use of sustainably-produced electric power to produce iron without the use of chemical reductants at all. This work is coordinated under the Advanced Sustainable Iron and Steel Center (ASISC), which also considers sustainable production of other metals and inorganic materials.