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Eric Appel | Faculty Spotlight

"I’ve always been curious about how things worked and loved tinkering with new ways to solve problems."


Eric Appel

Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment and Associate Professor, by courtesy, of Pediatrics (Endocrinology)

"I’ve always been curious about how things worked and loved tinkering with new ways to solve problems."

Where were you born and raised?

- I was born and raised in Long Beach, CA, which is right at the border between LA County and Orange County in Southern California. I’ve always been a very outdoorsy person and enjoy sports like soccer, running, cycling, hiking, surfing, and snowboarding (though I’ve just recently switched to skiing). I raced competitively in cycling through high school and my undergraduate career. I really enjoy hiking and cycling in the hills around Stanford.

What led you to the engineering field?

- I’ve always been curious about how things worked and loved tinkering with new ways to solve problems. Engineering is fundamentally about generating solutions to problems and that opportunity for direct impact is something I’ve always loved about the field. You’ll see my undergrad degree is in Chemistry, but this was primarily because my undergrad university didn’t have Chemical Engineering, so I signed up for what I thought at the time would be the closest thing. My research throughout my career has really focused on design and synthesis of new materials that have unique and interesting properties that we can leverage to solve problems.

Where did you study?

I received my BS in Chemistry and MS in Polymer Science from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, CA. I performed my MS thesis research with Dr Jim Hedrick and Dr Robert Miller on the synthesis of polymers for drug delivery applications at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, CA. I then obtained my PhD in Chemistry with Prof. Oren A. Scherman at the University of Cambridge. My PhD research focused on the preparation of dynamic and stimuli-responsive supramolecular polymeric materials. For my PhD work, I was the recipient of the Jon Weaver PhD prize from the Royal Society of Chemistry and a Graduate Student Award from the Materials Research Society. Upon graduating from Cambridge, I was awarded a National Research Service Award from the NIBIB and a Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Fellowship to work with Prof. Robert Langer at MIT on the development of supramolecular biomaterials for applications in tissue engineering and drug delivery.

What led you to Stanford and your current role? 

- I was always really interested in academic research and teaching/mentorship, but I wasn’t set on going the academic route until about six months into my postdoc when I interviewed at a big pharma company. While I really loved the company and received a good offer, the experience of interviewing and doing a deep dive on what my role in industry would look like helped me to realize more about myself and what I find fulfilling. My favorite part of my role at Stanford is getting to talk with enthusiastic and driven students about their exciting science and help dream up what might be possible in new areas of research. 

Please describe any of your current research you would like highlighted and describe its importance, and/or any research you hope to accomplish in the future

- My research program at Stanford focuses on the development of biomimetic polymeric materials that can be used as tools to better understand fundamental biological processes and to engineer advanced healthcare solutions. We focuses a lot of our efforts on making better pharmaceuticals, with most of our work targeting diabetes, vaccines, and cancer immunotherapies. There are a handful of news stories covering our work:

- We also have a program in developing new tools for wildfire prevention. Our initial work in this area was covered by Stanford news with a cool video:

What advice do you have for aspiring scientist researchers in the field? 

- Build a robust network of mentors at different levels, including peer mentors (folks 2-3 years ahead of you) and more senior (both folks 8-10 years ahead of you and more senior). It’s really important to rally a team around you. It takes work to build and maintain these relationships but they are necessary through all of the ups-and-downs and various transitions throughout your career.

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