Our History

The Genetically Engineered Materials Science & Engineering Center (GEMSEC) was established with a $7.7M grant from the National Science Foundation including matching funds from the University of Washington covering six years. From 2004-2013, GEMSEC operated as a Materials Research Science & Engineering Center (MRSEC) consisting of an interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers working together to marry the science and technology of the two fields, biology and materials science & engineering, at the fundamental level.


During this period, faculty from five departments were involved in GEMSEC – focusing on research to adapt and develop molecular biology and genetics protocols to engineer peptides and proteins as a utility to synthesize, morphogenize and assemble functional hierarchical structures for use in technologies and medicine.

Led by Professor Mehmet Sarikaya, GEMSEC had one Interdisciplinary Research Group (IRG) which focused on adaptation of molecular biology and genomics techniques to develop new materials and systems. The center has diverse partnerships and collaboration with other national and international universities, including New York University and Istanbul Technical University. The center also has close collaboration and partnerships with other centers at the University of Washington (such as Center for Nanotechnology, Center for Genome Sciences, and Center for Photonics), National Laboratories (e.g., Pacific Northwest Lab) and industry (e.g., Nanoink, Synthetec, and Biohesion).

An important aspect of GEMSEC includes a range of educational, human resources and outreach activities. The Center will run summer programs (e.g., Materials Camp for high school students and teachers), mentorship and research projects for high school and UG students throughout the year, Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), Research Experience for Teachers (RET) targeted for Seattle area science teachers. Working closely and collaboratively with local tribes in Washington State, a significant outreach goal of the Center is to attract, educate, and graduate Native American Students with BS, MS and Ph.D. degrees that focus on transferring Mother Nature's molecular ways to practical engineering.

Another important component of GEMSEC is to develop and establish Shared Experimental Facilities to enable the GEMSEC members to carry out the cross-disciplinary research, central at the intersections of biology and materials sciences. The facilities also serve the needs of the medical and physical scientists at the University of Washington, associated institutions, and member industrial establishments.