Michael S. Ellison

Research Stay at RWTH Aachen University Kármán Fellow in the program ERS International at Institute of Textile Technology (ITA) and the Department of Mathematics in July 2015

Information about our Alumnus

Professor Michael S. Ellison worked at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, USA for 30 years and has continued to work as a research professor there since his retirement.

His most active research is in the general field of biomimetics: the study of natural systems for inspiration in new materials development. His current research in this field considers the fibers produced by spiders as the preeminent model of an advanced material produced by a sustainable method.

With colleagues in many other disciplines at Clemson University, ranging from molecular biology and biochemical engineering to mathematics and physics, he has established a large and highly transdisciplinary research program in biomimetic advanced materials. This is a national and international research program: Prof. Ellison and others in this group actively collaborate with colleagues at other universities in the US and abroad. Elements of this program include molecular biology for gene engineering and expression; isolation, purification and material production from the resultant synthetic protein polymers.

Clemson University and RWTH Aachen University are strengthening their cooperation at the moment. A memorandum of understanding between the two institutions was setup earlier in 2014. This memorandum of understanding is designed to facilitate the advancement and intensification of academic research and to establish a basic framework for conducting cooperative activities between Clemson University and RWTH Aachen University. Ellison’s Theodore von Kármán Fellowship is a next step in order to boost the negotiated joint research activities and the exchange of information and materials in fields of interest to Clemson University and RWTH Aachen University.

It is important for both countries to facilitate the exchange of scholars. The Kármán fellows program is an excellent model.



Professor Michael S. Ellison Receives the Fellowship Certificate Copyright: © RWTH Aachen

What is your current research about and what is its importance in a broader context?

My current research interests are in biomaterials, specifically spider silk, and in materials development for compliant robotic surfaces.

How did you get interested in a research stay as a Theodore von Kármán Fellow at RWTH Aachen University with Professor Gries and Professor Herty?

I have known Professor Gries from the Institute of Textile Technology (ITA) for many years and was never able to arrange a visit to his institute; finally, I was able to do that. I could work on compliant materials at his institute. While at RWTH, I was introduced to Professor Herty from the Department of Mathematics, with whom I discussed the modeling of the natural silk production system.

What was your most rewarding experience here?

On the professional side, it would be that I was finally able to visit ITA and work in the superb facilities there. On a personal note, I was never in that part of Germany before, and so that was very interesting. The city of Aachen is lovely and steeped in some very interesting history. RWTH the university is a remarkable institution.

Which tangible outcomes of your stay are most important? What is planned for the future?

We were able to produce a prototype knitted material for the robotic surface, and we will be able to improve it based on what we learned. In addition, I was able to introduce Professor Herty to a colleague at Clemson University, Professor Christopher Cox, and they are pursuing further modeling of silk production.

Is there something you think German academia could learn from academia in the USA or vice-versa?

I cannot really comment very much on that, being solely an academic and not an administrator. However, it is important for both countries to facilitate the exchange of scholars. The Karman fellows program is an excellent model. I appreciate very much the opportunity to visit and study in Germany, and look forward to my next visit.

Thank you, Professor Ellison, for this interview.