Jennifer A. Lewis, an internationally recognized leader in the fields of 3-D printing and biomimetic materials, has been appointed as the first Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and as a core faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. Lewis is the first senior faculty member to occupy a Wyss-endowed professorial chair.

3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of fabricating three-dimensional solid objects from digital computer models. Following computer-generated drawings, 3-D printers generally deposit successive layers of various materials to build an object from the bottom up. The technique is used in a range of fields, from producing crowns in a dental lab to rapid prototyping of aerospace, automotive, and consumer goods.

Jennifer A. Lewis has been named the Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and as a core faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. Photo courtesy of Jennifer A. Lewis

Lewis’ research, however, has expanded 3-D printing to a more sophisticated level. By designing novel inks from diverse classes of materials, as well as high-precision 3-D printing platforms with exceedingly small nozzles, her research group is able to create finely tailored structures with precise electronic, optical, mechanical, and chemical properties.

“Our approach is distinct from commercially available 3-D printers because of its materials flexibility, precision, and high throughput,” Lewis said.

Lewis’ understanding of the chemistry and physics of soft materials enables her to design and manipulate various gels, polymers, and colloidal suspensions and create architectures that mimic those found in nature, such as bone, spider webs, or vascular networks. Her unique prototyping platform can pattern a broad array of functional materials under ambient conditions with features as tiny as one micron (less than one-twenty-five-thousandth of an inch) over areas as large as the top of a square coffee table, all in a matter of minutes. Once deposited, the inks solidify rapidly, enabling the creation of intricate spanning and self-supporting structures, even at a microscopic scale.

The potential uses for this technique in the near term are broad and include printed electronics, 3-D polymer scaffolds for tissue engineering, and advanced materials for energy harvesting and storage.

“We are delighted that Jennifer is joining us,” said SEAS Dean Cherry A. Murray, who is also the John A. and Elizabeth S. Armstrong Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and a professor of physics. “An inspirational leader in materials engineering and a natural collaborator, she will bring dynamism, creativity, and expertise to partnerships within the Harvard engineering, life science, and medical communities to forge the development of new functional materials for therapies and diagnostics.”

Prior to her appointment at Harvard, Lewis was the Hans Thurnauer Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and director of the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she started her career in 1990. She has received numerous honors for her work, including the National Science Foundation (NSF) Presidential Faculty Fellow Award, the Brunauer Award from the American Ceramic Society, the Langmuir Lecture Award from the American Chemical Society, and the Materials Research Society Medal. She is a fellow of the American Ceramic Society, the American Physical Society, the Materials Research Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She serves on the editorial advisory boards of Advanced Functional Materials and Soft Matter, and has authored 120 papers and eight patents. Lewis also has a passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and outreach, and has been active in this are for two decades.

Her new laboratory at Harvard integrates multiple platforms for materials synthesis, assembly, and characterization, and has a design studio to foster a culture of creativity and collaboration.

“With this prestigious Wyss professorship, Jennifer will expand her innovative work in the fabrication of delicate 3-D structures, opening exciting new research frontiers, and helping us to design solutions to a host of medical, environmental, and industrial problems,” said Don Ingber, founding director of the Wyss Institute. “Jennifer’s impressive dossier spans so many disciplines at the heart of our work, from tissue engineering to bioinspired robotics, and adaptive materials that optimize energy use. And we’re thrilled she is joining the team.”

Nothing but a breakthrough