It's odd to find a biochemist holding a high-ranking management position in the materials sciences division of a major national laboratory. And the team that Mark Alper has assembled at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.--consisting of organic chemists, enzymologists, chemical engineers, and even a journal editor--may seem even stranger. But in the four years since Alper founded the Enzymatic Synthesis of Materials Program at the Berkeley lab, this eclectic collection of investigators has fused into a productive unit.

Alper's team is one of only a few groups in the United States focusing on the blending of biotechnology and materials research. They are at the forefront of a very exciting, very promising field--bioderived materials--that can have a variety of applications, including artificial skin, optics, paper production, synthetic spider silk, and custom-made polymers.

"After people started asking me, `What's a biochemist doing in a materials division?' I had to come up...

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