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Mark Hersam, Ph.D.

Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Simpson Querrey Institute resident, Northwestern University

Potential interview topics: Hersam is available to speak to materials science and nanotechnology and the impact on healthcare, such as the potential to use wearable electronics for biomedical diagnostics or precise, nano-enabled cancer treatments and the transformative effect on healthcare.

Mark Hersam is a Northwestern University materials engineer who teaches the innovators of tomorrow and works across scientific boundaries to create new materials for use in electronics, solar cells and batteries. As a versatile experimentalist, Hersam is developing novel nanomaterials for use in information technology, biotechnology, energy and health monitoring. 

Hersam’s lab focuses on studying how to make large quantities of nanomaterials with sufficient homogeneity to enable technology. Atomic uniformity is necessary to build technology, since changing an atom’s size changes its properties: electronic, optical, magnetic, chemical, mechanical, thermal, etc. In many cases, his objective is to apply these nanomaterials to inorganic materials to increase the functionality of the resulting hybrid system – for example, wearable electronics that will monitor biomedical diagnostics at all times. 

Hersam is particularly interested in this emerging concept of wearable electronics, which he believes will have real impact in healthcare – and soon. He cites products like FitBit and Apple Watches, which have changed consumer behavior to be more health conscious. Hersam is researching how to integrate the technology into clothing itself, making them truly wearable electronics. Instead of just monitoring the number of steps you take, this technology will be able to monitor measures like blood pressure, pulse and blood sugar at all times.

Looking to the future, Hersam plans to pursue further developments at the intersection of nanotechnology and healthcare. One such development would be a class of wearable electronics that can provide dynamic treatment instead of passive monitoring. For example, if a diabetic’s blood sugar drops, the device will automatically administer the required dose of insulin. Another would be a targeted, nano-enabled drug delivery scheme with specific implications for chemotherapy treatment in cancer patients. Instead of systemically delivering the drugs, which kills all quick-growing cells and causes collateral damage to the rest of the body, this biotechnology would allow for the direct delivery of the drug to the offending tumor with direct impact on the patient’s quality of life.

Macroscopically, though, Hersam is focusing on training the next generation of nano-scientists. He views his principal job as that of an educator – a role in which he can have more impact on unsolved problems by harnessing the minds of hundreds of young scientists and engineers. 

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