Interview: Professor AJ Boydston, Will Chemists rule the world? On 3D printing, Materials, and more

Dr. Aj Boydston
Dr. Boydston began studying chemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon under the guidance of Professor Michael M. Haley. His research focused on the synthesis and study of dehydrobenzoannulenes. After completing BS and MS degrees, he began doctoral research at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2005, Dr. Boydston joined the group of Professor Christopher W. Bielawski and was co-advised by Professor C. Grant Willson. Dr. Boydston completed his thesis research focused on the synthesis and applications of annulated bis(imidazolium) chromophores in 2007. After graduating, he moved to Pasadena, California to take an NIH postdoctoral position at the California Institute of Technology. There, he worked under the mentorship of Professor Robert H. Grubbs to develop new catalysts and methods for the synthesis and characterization of functionalized cyclic polymers. He returned to the Pacific Northwest as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Washington in the summer of 2010. His research group currently focuses on developments in the areas of electro-organic synthesis, polymer synthesis, mechanochemical transduction, triggered depolymerization, polymers for therapeutic applications, and additive manufacturing (3D printing). His research and teaching efforts have been recognized through the NSF CAREER Award, Army Research Office Young Investigator Award, Cottrell Scholar Award, Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, and University of Washington Distinguished Teaching Award. Professor Boydston will be a speaker at #3DHEALS2018

Molecules that glow under UV light after being stretched
Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing? What was that experience like? What were you thinking at that moment?
AJ: I attended a 5-minute presentation at a Seattle Short Takes event. The focus of the event was on plastics (production, end of life, environmental impact, applications, etc.). One presenter described their team’s use of 3D printing to convert plastic debris into composting toilets and other useful devices for 3rd-world countries and disaster relief efforts.
Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey/company/career/research in 3D printing (bio-fabrication/bio-printing)?
AJ: I can’t help getting exciting about opportunities to invent new chemistry, or apply chemistry in new areas. Materials development seems to be a central theme in 3DP, so it is an inspiring arena for those interested in applications-oriented discovery.
Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work?
AJ: My students love the projects.
Jenny: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions?
AJ: Understanding what my students want, what they should want, and what they need to achieve those goals.
Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advices you heard should they ignore?
AJ: Don’t be afraid to obsess over a passion you have. Being well-rounded, when defined by someone else’s standard/rubric, is over-rated. You get 24 hours per day, be in command of every one of them.
Jenny: If you could have a giant billboard to promote a message to millions and even billions of people in our community (i.e. healthcare 3D printing and bio-fabrication), what message would that be?
AJ: Imagine first, then create the reality you need.
Jenny: What were/was the best investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication?
AJ: To commit my time and my student/researcher resources toward it.
Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing?
AJ: Spending time with my wife, kids, and dog.