Muchun Liu: Postdoctoral Spotlight
What is your research focus and how does it contribute to the bigger picture (sustainability, climate, human health, etc.)?
My research focuses on transforming biopolymers into multifunctional structures for sustainable technologies. Integrating sustainability principles into the design of new technologies is critical in addressing our time-sensitive global challenges, including climate change, planetary health, and food security. An attractive option is to provide new scopes for biopolymers extracted from natural products or the waste of the food and agriculture industries. I am currently developing spiny, biodegradable silk- based microcapsules to replace microplastics in agriculture and cosmetics.
How did you become interested in this work? Was there something that inspired you or did you always have this interest in science and engineering from a young age?
Two main triggers:
First, as a child, I watched a fascinating anime called “Fullmetal Alchemist”. It is a story of people who use alchemy to bring their loved ones back to life. This fantasy world involves the Law of Equivalent Exchange, Transmutation Circles, the Gate of Truth, the Philosopher’s Stone, Homunculus, etc. I was deeply touched by alchemy – the predecessor of chemistry; and people’s desire – the driving force of science.
Second, my first chemistry teacher in middle school is an amazing mentor. She brought us to visit the wastewater treatment plant (the horrible smell!); she gave us homework in the kitchen, such as mixing eggshell powder and vinegar (the horrible smell!); she gave us riddles like a human and a dog went to a cave, why the human survived but the dog died (been there… from the kitchen homework:)).
So, I like cool chemistry and cool structures.
Do you have any career resources you have been referring to during your postdoc or advice for a new postdoc?
Attending career development and funding proposal workshops as early as possible; joining the groups and associations that I am previously unfamiliar with to find out what they are for.
What were you doing (type of work and location) before coming to MIT and what drew you to MIT CEE?
For my Ph.D. training at Brown, I engineered the complex two-dimensional nanochannels between nanosheets for filtration membrane, stretchable molecular barrier, and antiviral coating. My methods developed in my Ph.D. are non-invasive and suitable for complex structures not accessible by other methods. To address time-sensitive global challenges, I decide to directly engineer biomaterials with structural functions for targeted applications. Therefore, I leverage my expertise in both inorganic and organic materials fabrication and invest them in a new area of multiscale biopolymer transformation.
What are the coolest things postdocs should experience while living in Boston (or at MIT or CEE)?
Numerous gatherings of a diversity of people, topics, and food. For a while, I meet and talk to new people every weekend.
How do you like to spend your free time?
Reading manga, traveling, and animal watching
Tell us a fun fact about yourself!
I have caffeine sensitivity. Instead of drinking coffee, I work out to refresh myself during breaks.