Andrew Vogt, 27, Chemistry
Chemistry student Andrew Vogt earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Texas Lutheran University in Seguin in 2005. He began his course work for the five-year chemistry Ph.D. program at Southern Methodist University that year.
Under the direction of adviser Brent Sumerlin, Vogt is doing work on "smart" materials, a hot topic in chemistry. A smart material is a designed material that reacts in a very specific, narrow way to some kind of environmental stimulus.
For an example in nature, think of a water lily opening and closing as the sun appears and disappears. In this example, the flower is the "responsive" material and the "stimulus" is sunlight. For a fanciful analogy, think of man turning to stone upon glancing at snake-haired Medusa. The man-to-stone response is quick and strong.
Potential stimuli include magnetic fields, light waves, temperature, pH and specific ions.
Vogt says there are potential medical applications for smart materials. One material he's excited about is a substance that's a liquid at a cold temperature but turns to a gel at room temperature. The gel is considered "smart" because it is capable of returning to the original liquid state or remaining a gel, depending on temperature. The gel creates a scaffolding for cells to begin to grow, and could potentially replace skin grafts for burn victims, with the liquid simply being painted on the affected area and the ambient temperature changing the liquid to a gel.
Other smart-materials applications include drug-delivery systems. A therapeutic substance might encounter a certain pH or temperature that would cause a change from solid structure to a liquid state, delivering the payload at the appropriate place.
"We predesign things," says Vogt. "If a macromolecule needs to be long and skinny or it has have a lot of hands to grab onto things, we design it that way."