C. Jeffrey Brinker

The University of New Mexico

Primary Section: 31, Engineering Sciences
Membership Type: Member (elected 2021)


Brinker is a materials scientist recognized for his pioneering contributions to the synthesis, characterization, and understanding of porous and composite nanostructured materials. In particular he established the chemical and physical principles of sol-gel processing (materials synthesis from soluble molecular precursors) and combined sol-gel processing with molecular self-assembly to fabricate new classes of highly ordered porous and composite nanostructured films and particles for applications in energy and medicine. Recently, he developed lipid bilayer-encapsulated mesoporous nanoparticles, protocells, as a new drug delivery platform. Brinker was born in Easton, Pennsylvania and attended Rutgers University where he obtained B.S., M.S. and PhD degrees in ceramic science and engineering. He joined Sandia National Laboratories in 1979 as a member of the technical staff and in 2003 was named the fifth National Laboratory Fellow (highest technical distinction) in the fifty-four year history of the lab. In 1999 he joined the University of New Mexico as the first joint UNM/Sandia Professor of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering. Today he holds the title of Distinguished and Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and is a member of the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center. Brinker is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering as well as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Inventors.

Research Interests

Brinker pioneered the field of sol-gel processing (materials synthesis from soluble molecular precursors), and his early work established the first comprehensive synthesis-structure-property relationships for sol-gel derived materials. Arguably this work, culminating with the publication of Sol-Gel Science (with co-author George Scherer) in 1990 created a foundation for much of modern day nanoscience and engineering. Building on this foundation the Brinker lab utilizes sol-gel processing methodologies often in combination with ‘bottom-up’ self-assembly or ‘top down’ atomic layer deposition to create new classes of porous and composite nano-to-macro structured materials in bulk, particle, and thin film forms. Several notable examples are: surface modification of silica gels enabling drying shrinkage to be reversible and the formation of aerogels without supercritical processing; the combination of sol-gel processing with evaporation induced surfactant self-assembly to create highly ordered mesoporous silica films and nanoparticles used throughout the world for applications in membranes, dielectrics, catalysis, and drug delivery; intra- and extra-cellular encapsulation within nanoscopic silica coatings to create cellular replicas with preserved antigens serving as vaccines. In 2009 Brinker’s group reported on mesoporous silica nanoparticles loaded with cargos and encapsulated within a supported lipid bilayer as a new biomimetic drug delivery platform named ‘protocell’. Today nanoparticles encapsulated within synthetic or natural lipid bilayer membranes represent leading candidates for next generation nanomedicines and are a major focus of his research.        

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