Jin Kim Montclare is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, who is performing groundbreaking research in engineering proteins to mimic nature and, in some cases, work better than nature. She works to customize artificial proteins with the aim of targeting human disorders, drug delivery and tissue regeneration as well as create nanomaterials for electronics. Using multidisciplinary expertise in chemistry and genetic engineering, these results have already been realized.
She also heads an outreach program that seeks to expose K-12 students to STEM and invites high school students to her lab at Tandon for research.
The Edison Awards recently spoke with Montclare about her pathway into engineering and what she is currently working on move the STEM discipline forward. (edited for brevity and clarity)
What was it like to be a woman studying in your field? Did you feel supported and challenged in a positive way? Did you have a network of people to reach out to?
Being a woman in STEM, I feel fortunate to be doing what I love to do as an educator and researcher! My path was made possible through the support of my mentors from K-12 to now. So I do my part by encouraging other young women to pursue STEM. More than half the students I mentor directly at NYU are women and I am quite proud of it.
What do you like about your field and what you do? Do you think people have any misconceptions about what it’s like to be a scientist or engineer or about the field itself?
I love that I get one to work on research that can ultimately help people (by removing toxins or treating diseases) and two to interact with a wonderful group of young aspiring engineers and scientists making exciting advances in research. I think people outside of science or my field feel mystified and think the things scientist/engineers do are above their head. Part of that I think can be demystified through proper communication of research in a way the public can understand.
How is your organization bringing innovation to the forefront?
I lead a research group that performs groundbreaking research in engineering proteins to mimic nature and, in some cases, work better than nature. We work to customize artificial proteins as biomaterials and catalysts with the aim of targeting human disorders, drug delivery and tissue regeneration.
To date, what project is your greatest success? What is the story behind that innovation?
As I’m really excited about our current research, I would state that our work on developing biomaterials for gene and most recently dual gene and drug delivery would be our great success story. We developed “lipoprotoeplexes”, a complex comprised of engineered proteins and lipids that is capable of complexing with nucleic acids as well as small hydrophobic drugs. Upon complexation, they can safely deliver genes and drugs to cells.
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