Peter James BakerPeter James Baker

Ph.D. (5th. year), Biomedical Engineering

Year in graduate program:8th. year (January 2003)
Research Topic: Enzyme Engineering
Partner Schools:Stanley Eugene Clark PS 399 / Langston Hughes PS 233
Partner Teachers:Sharon Holliday / Jennifer Humphrey
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Under the guidance of Prof. Jin Kim Montclare, Peter is designing 'Green' biocatalysts to replace those traditionally used in organic chemistry. Exploiting the naturally occurring biodiversity, Peter is exploring enzymes with unique biophysical and biochemical properties to mediate the degradation, modification and synthesis of plastics. Plastics present challenges on two ecological fronts; their synthetic feedstocks are petrochemical based while their resistance to degradation create many puzzles in terms of waste management. Biocatalysts offer a unique solution to these challenges as several biodegradable plastics have been shown to be both synthesized and degraded by enzymes. Furthermore, Peter is also developing a novel organism which will be able to 'drive' along the chemotaxis gradient of these neurotoxins to actively seek out and degrade these compounds. The methodology here requires the manipulation of the organism internal signaling mechanisms to develop 'biobots'.

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Figure: One of the areas Peter focuses his research is in the development of novel protein catalysts which can degrade synthetic polymers.

Integration in The Class Room

Peter's interdisciplinary research has been instrumental in assisting him in his teaching of robotics and mechatronics. His background in chemistry and material science assist him imparting knowledge to his students about the chemical and physical makeup of common materials; and how these properties play a role in materials selection. His in depth knowledge of biological science helps the students in meeting the state learning standards. For example, by integrating his research on plastics, the students are able to identify how human activity can have both beneficial and harmful effects on the natural world. Peter has developed several lesson plans and submitted them to TeachEngineering.org. These lessons examine a broad range of scientific disciplines and include: An Introduction to Nanotechnology, The Mechanical Properties of Plastics, and An Understanding of Differential Gears. Finally, in collaboration with his partner teacher and the school administration Peter is developing a basic computer skills workshop for both student and parent participation, to promote greater computer literacy within the community.

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Figure: To integrate his research into the classroom Peter utilizes a hands-on-approach in discussing the mechanical properties of plastics.

1 - AMPS Fellow; 2 - CBRI Fellow