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McCarthy Speaks about Bioplastics, Medical Devices

Faculty Researcher Delivers University Professor Lecture

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Prof. Stephen McCarthy, center, is presented with the Distinguished University Professor medallion by Chancellor Marty Meehan, left, and Provost Ahmed Abdelal.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Bioplastics is one of the most active fields of research in academia and industry today. Unlike ordinary plastics, which are petroleum-based, bioplastics are derived from sustainable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats and oils and corn starch, and are often used in food packaging, dining utensils, packing materials and insulation. 

“Bioplastics are made from renewable feedstocks — they don’t rely on fossil fuels and they don’t produce more greenhouse gases, thereby helping slow down global warming,” said plastics engineering Prof. Stephen McCarthy in his lecture delivered April 25 at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center. “Bioplastics are also biodegradable so they can help with disposal problems.”

McCarthy gave his talk, entitled “Interdisciplinary Collaborations: From Bioplastics to Medical Devices,” to students, faculty, staff and school administrators as part of his appointment as the newest Distinguished University Professor. The award honors him for his exemplary teaching, outstanding research and extraordinary service to UMass Lowell for nearly three decades.

In his talk, McCarthy discussed the various interdisciplinary research centers on campus that he has been involved with since 1984. He also talked about the benefits of such collaborations between academia, industry and cross-disciplinary programs like plastics engineering, chemistry and mechanical engineering, as well as the Manning School of Business and the UMass Medical School in Worcester. 

He described the work that he and his co-researchers conducted on biodegradable polymers and blends at UMass Lowell’s Center for Biodegradable Polymer Research, which he directed from 1990 to 2007. He highlighted the Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites, which is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and represents a collaborative effort by Iowa State University and UMass Lowell to develop bio-based products from agricultural feedstocks. He also focused on the University’s Institute for Plastics Innovation, which partners with companies to develop economically significant intellectual property and provides them with incubation space for R&D.

McCarthy updated the audience with research being performed by faculty and industry partners on using hollow nanospheres for delivering drugs and insulin in lab mice; creating the next generation of medical dermatology products for treating facial wrinkles and acne; developing a “hot-melt” adhesive to replace surgical wires, sutures and titanium plates and screws and promote better, faster healing and using electrospun silk nanofibers as biodegradable dressings for wounds and burns.

He also spoke about the international partnerships that he helped UMass Lowell forge with Shenkar College in Israel as well as universities in Ireland and Northern Ireland through the Center for Irish Partnerships

Finally, McCarthy highlighted success stories of start-up and spin-off companies that benefitted from the services offered by the Massachusetts Medical Device Development (M2D2) Center, a signature program for the campus that he and Sheila Noone, Ph.D., of UMass Medical School founded in 2005 with a grant of $4 million from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. M2D2 offers inventors and small medical-device companies coordinated access to research engineering and clinical investigation at the Lowell and Worcester campuses.

“M2D2 is ‘liked’ by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren!” noted McCarthy.