Saturday, January 27, 2007

Valerie Sheares Ashby

UNC-Chapel Hill magazine, endeavors, profiles polymer chemist Valerie Sheares Ashby.

Ashby discovers, designs, and synthesizes new bioelastomers — soft materials which can be incorporated into human tissue. She encountered them by accident while finding new ways to combine the long chains of molecules that we call polyesters. Typically, materials that are FDA-approved for health purposes, from joint replacement to drug delivery, are crystalline and rigid, providing little flexibility or malleability. On the other hand, bioelastomers are very…well, elastic. Anything doctors put into patients’ bodies, Ashby maintains, should possess mechanical properties that allow it to mimic the tissue that’s around it, because doing so reduces scarring, irritation, and other incompatibility issues.
Her research group has ten patents, many publications, and collaborations with industry. Ashby takes her teaching role seriously too.
In the classroom, Ashby cultivates that diversity by focusing on individual students. While she claims that teaching is just in her blood, her students say she works hard at it. “She knows all of her students’ names,” says Benjamin Pierce, a fourth-year graduate student in Ashby’s lab. “She prints out seven or eight pages of faces and names and studies them. And she’ll get them.” This fall she’s teaching introductory chemistry, and with about four hundred students, it’s one of the largest classes at UNC. But Pierce doesn’t doubt she’ll know even their pets’ names by the end of the semester. She makes herself available, adds Andy Brown, a third-year graduate student, to talk to anyone, about anything, anywhere.
It sounds like the chemistry students at UNC are lucky to haver her on the faculty. (via Thus Spake Zuska)

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