2015 RAINFOREST INNOVATION FELLOW
As a 2015 Rainforest Fellow, Dr. Brinker is internationally recognized for his work in advanced materials and as a pioneer in developing sol-gel processing, a method for making inorganic materials molecule by molecule. Over the past two decades he and his research team have developed self-assembly (wherein molecules spontaneously organize into nanostructures) as a robust and efficient means to create porous and composite thin film and particulate nanostructures with optimized properties and/or complex functionalities.
Mimicking the structures of the natural world has been the key to his inventions. Dr. Brinker developed a method, pioneered by his lab and called Evaporation Induced Self-Assembly (EISA), to self-assemble diverse materials into coatings that mimic the seashell’s structure, which is twice as hard and 1,000 times as strong as its individual components. The technology received an R&D 100 Award from R&D Magazine as one of 100 top high-technology inventions in applied technologies.
Dr. Brinker is also inspired by and studies natural systems to solve difficult engineering problems such as water collection and purification, self-cleaning and repair, energy harvesting, and selective cellular delivery. His process for producing low-cost aerogels led to the formation of the local company Nanopore and an R&D 100 Award. The aerogel technology is the underlying basis for a similar process that produced his superhydrophobic coating technology and the formation of startup Lotus Leaf and another R&D 100 Award. His biomimetic membranes for water purification and CO2 capture each received an R&D 100 Award. The CO2 capture membrane also received a gold award in the green tech special recognition category.
His mesoporous silica nanoparticle has a huge internal surface area and variable surface chemistry that can be loaded with diverse cargos. The external surfaces can be engineered to avoid or enhance binding with specific cell and tissue targets and can be used to deliver cancer drugs to a wide variety of cancer targets, increasing the drug’s effectiveness and reducing side effects. It is a generic platform in the sense that it has great versatility. The nanoparticle technology led to the creation of UNM Rainforest Innovations start-up Alpine Biosciences, Inc., acquired by Oncothyreon in 2014 for $27 million.