The Intern Diaries: Derek Saxon

Derek SaxonDerek Saxon is a junior chemistry major from Iron Mountain, Michigan. He is conducting research this summer on biopolymers with Professor Dean Katahira of the Chemistry Department at Ripon College as part of his involvement with the McNair Scholars Program. He is one of four Ripon College students sharing their stories of research internships and jobs over the course of this summer.

Form and Fungus

My search for a quality solvent continues. Last week I mentioned Ionic Liquids (ILs), which are great in theory, but their application can be expensive. Since they have not been experimented with to a great extent, it would be difficult to find the proper IL for my purpose without conducting numerous trials. Fructose still seems like a good candidate for the condensation polymerization, which loses water, because it can grow from either end of the molecule.

I received some inspiration this week from an article in the New Yorker. Gavin McIntyre and Eben Bayer are the founders of Ecovative Design, L.L.C. and co-inventors of a mycelium-based packing material. Their goal is to rid our world of plastics in favor of their all-natural material. The packing material takes agricultural waste and steam-pasteurizes it, adds a small amount of water and nutrients and injects mycelium pellets into a mold. After four days of sitting in the dark, the mycelium has grown through the substrate and is very similar to that of Styrofoam. The material, unlike Styrofoam, is fully compostable and takes about a month to degrade. They are able to produce this material at a relatively low cost and they do not waste any of the materials they produce. If you would like to read the full article from the New Yorker, you can find it: HERE.

These two innovators have opened the door to so many other biodegradable processes. Their dream to make modern-day plastics a thing of the past is a huge step in the right direction. Biocatalysis is a method that is extremely promising in the field of biopolymers. McIntyre and Bayer have shown that it is possible to take a brilliant biodegradable idea and turn it into large scale industry for a low cost.

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