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Justin Robert Barone

Associate Professor


Ph.D., Macromolecular Science and Engineering, Case Western Reserve University, 2000

M.S., Engineering Science, New Jersey Institute of Technology, 1997

B.S., Materials Science and Engineering, Lehigh University, 1994


Jan 2007 - Present - Associate Professor, Biological Systems Engineering Department, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.

Sept. 2002 - Dec. 2006, Research Chemist, USDA/ARS, Beltsville, Md.

Apr. 2000 - Sept. 2002 - Advanced R&D Engineer, Polymer Diagnostics, Inc. (a division of the PolyOne Corp.), Avon Lake, Ohio

Jan. 1995 - Feb. 1996 - Project Engineer, Utility Development Corporation, Livingston, N.J.

Courses Taught Last Five Years

  • BSE 3154 Thermodynamics of Biological Systems
  • BSE 3504 Transport Processes in Biological Systems
  • BSE 4514 Industrial Processing of Biological Materials
  • BSE 4644/5644 Biobased Industrial Polymers

Other Teaching and Advising

I have mentored 23 undergraduate students in my research laboratory in the past 5 years.  Currently, I am the director of the NSF-REU Site: Bioprocess Engineering for Sustainability at Virginia Tech.

Program Focus

The Renewable Materials Research Group is interested in how polymer molecules change shape and how that can be used advantageously to process polymers in new ways.  We want to design scalable, low energy processes for renewable materials.  We are pursuing innovative materials and interesting processing:
Self-assembly. “Template” proteins are short, hydrophobic proteins that form β-sheets to minimize free energy.  “Adder” proteins are hydrophilic, α-helical proteins that are stable by themselves.  However, when mixed with a template protein, adder proteins will undergo α-helix to β-sheet conformation change.  The two proteins cooperatively self-assemble from the nm to the μm scale into large amyloid fibers 10-20 μm across.  It is possible to control the shape and properties of the fiber through protein choice (Scheme 1).  


Scheme 1 Scheme 1 - GET-Print


Since proteins can be genetically encoded, we are engineering cells to express “template” and “adder” proteins that self-assemble into fibers.  In nature, protein fibers form the basis for many structural components like muscles, ligaments, feathers, and spider webs.  Large amyloid fibers do not require melt- or electro-spinning to process.  Self-assembly can be viewed as nature’s “additive manufacturing” (AM) process, just like 3D printing.  As such, it may be possible to genetically encode large-scale components if the large amyloid fibers could be coaxed to continue to self-assemble (like the tube at the end of Scheme 1).  This requires larger or “mesoscale” self-assembly (MESA).  MESA is more difficult than molecular level assembly because you need a large scale, directed force to motivate the objects to self-assemble in an organized fashion.  The Renewable Materials Research Group has ongoing projects in protein engineering and mechanics of large amyloid fibers, MESA, and genetically encoded 3D printing (GET-Print).

Polymer Processing. Our research group specializes in biopolymer compounding.  We continue to pursue the creation of new biopolymers for use in commodity plastics applications like packaging and automobile parts.  Typical polymer processing involves synthesis, compounding, and molding.  Biopolymers are synthesized in water at low temperature and atmospheric pressure.  Typical fossil fuel based polymers are synthesized in organic solvent and/or at very high temperature and pressure.  Both are compounded and molded but biopolymers are compounded and molded at much lower temperature.  The Renewable Materials Research Group is researching ways to utilize polymer relaxation processes (Scheme 2) to bend large-scale polymer components, thus eliminating the costly molding step.  “Shape morphing” is a bioinspired approach to polymer processing where extruded sheets can be induced to bend into a shape like a tree trunk or feather quill.  The induced curvature can occur with a very low energy stimulus like sunlight or a relative humidity change.  “Shape morphing” involves creating spatially heterogeneous biopolymers that can respond to a stimulus.


Scheme 2 Scheme 2 - Bending of a spatially heterogeneous material - When stimulated (T), expansion is red > blue > purple. Each layer is in equilibrium but no layer is in equilibrium with another, resulting in a permanently deformed component.

The Renewable Materials Research Group is part of the Biomolecular Engineering Cluster at Virginia Tech, which includes the Biofuels and Carbohydrates Laboratory , Metabolic Engineering and Systems Biology Laboratory , Ruder Research Group , and Zhang Research Group .

Selected Recent Publications

(* undergraduate student, ** graduate student, *** post-doc)

  • E.C. Claunch** and J.R. Barone, “Changing morphology of self-assembled peptide structures,” Langmuir, submitted.
  • C.S. Tuck*, A. Latham*, P.W. Lee*, and J.R. Barone, “Wheat gluten protein plasticized with its own hydrolysate,” Journal of Applied Polymer Science, submitted.
  • D.M. Ridgley**, E.C. Claunch**, P.W. Lee*, and J.R. Barone, “The role of protein hydrophobicity in conformation change and self-assembly into large amyloid fibers,” Biomacromolecules, submitted.
  • J.R. Barone, “Composites of nanocellulose and lignin-like polymers,” in Cellulose Based Composites. New Green Nanomaterials, ed. J. Hinestroza and A. Netravali, Chapter 9, pgs. 183-199, Wiley-VCH (2014).
  • D.M. Ridgley**, B.G. Freedman**, P.W. Lee*, and J.R. Barone, “Genetically encoded self-assembly of large amyloid fibers,” RSC Biomaterials Science, in press (2014).
  • D.M. Ridgley**, E.C. Claunch**, and J.R. Barone, “Characterization of large amyloid fibers and tapes by FT-IR and Raman spectroscopy,” Applied Spectroscopy, 67(12), 1417-1426 (2013).
  • D.M. Ridgley** and J.R. Barone, “Evolution of the amyloid fiber over multiple length scales,” ACS Nano, 7(2), 1006-1015 (2013).
  • D.M. Ridgley**, E.C. Claunch**, and J.R. Barone, “The effect of processing on large, self-assembled amyloid fibers,” Soft Matter, 8(40), 10298-10306 (2012).
  • D.M. Ridgley**, K.C. Ebanks**, and J.R. Barone, “Peptide mixtures can self-assemble into large amyloid fibers of varying size and morphology,” Biomacromolecules, 12(10), 3770-3779 (2011).
  • N.K. Budhavaram**, M. Stauffer*, and J.R. Barone, “Chemistry between cross-links affects the properties of peptide hydrogels,” Materials Science and Engineering Part C: Materials for Biological Applications, 31(5), 1042-1049 (2011).
  • R.K. June**, C.P. Neu, J.R. Barone, and D.P. Fyhrie, “Polymer mechanics as a model for short-term and flow-independent cartilage viscoelasticity,” Materials Science and Engineering Part C: Materials for Biological Applications, 31(4), 781-788 (2011).
  • N.K. Budhavaram** and J.R. Barone, “Quantifying amino acid and protein substitution using Raman spectroscopy,” Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, 42(3), 355-362 (2011).
  • N.K. Budhavaram**, J. Miller*, Y. Shen**, and J.R. Barone, “Protein substitution affects glass transition temperature and thermal stability,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 58(17), 9549-9555 (2010).  
  • G. Farrar**, J. Barone, A. Morgan, “Creation of ovalbumin based porous scaffolds for bone tissue regeneration,” Journal of Tissue Engineering, 209860 (6pp) (2010).
  • Z. Li**, S.H. Renneckar, and J.R. Barone, “Nanocomposites prepared by in-situ enzymatic polymerization of phenol with TEMPO-oxidized nanocellulose,” Cellulose, 17(1), 57-68 (2010).
  • A. Athamneh** and J.R. Barone, “Enzyme-mediated self-assembly of highly ordered structures from disordered proteins,” Smart Materials and Structures, 18(10), 104024 (8pp) (2009). (Invited paper)
  • J.R. Barone, “Lignocellulosic fiber-reinforced keratin polymer composites,” Journal of Polymers and the Environment, 17(2), 143-151 (2009).
  • R.K. June**, J.R. Barone, D.P. Fyhrie, “Aggrecan stiffness affects tissue-level cartilage stress-relaxation,” Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, 17(5), 669-676 (2009).

Selected Recent Funding

  • 2013-2016 NSF-EEC-RET, “Biomechanics from molecular to organismal scales,” $500,000 (senior personnel)
  • 2012-2015 NSF-EEC-REU, “REU Site: Bioprocess engineering for sustainability,” $368,461 (PI)
  • 2010-2014 USDA, “Light activated bonding of lignocellulose,” $503,903 (senior personnel)
  • 2009-2014 USDA, “Education Proposal: Bio-based Sustainable MAterials as Resources for Tomorrow (BSMART),” $500,000 (Co-PI)
    Justin Barone

  • (540) 231-0680
  • (540) 231-3498 (Lab)
  • Biological Systems Engineering Department (MC0554)
    HABB1, RM 301D, Virginia Tech
    1230 Washington St. SW
    Blacksburg, VA 24061

Justin Barone CV (PDF | 215KB)