Kelly Burke

Assistant Professor


Ph.D., Case Western Reserve University (2010)

Current Research

  • Synthesis and structure-property relationships of multifunctional polymeric materials, such as those with self-healing, shape changing, or self-assembling properties
  • Stimuli responsive polymers and networks, including liquid crystalline materials
  • Natural and synthetic biomaterials
  • Design and application of polymeric systems to modulate inflammation and promote healing

Professional Activities

Member: American Chemical Society, Divisions of Polymer Chemistry (POLY) and Polymer Science and Engineering (PMSE)
Member: American Institute of Chemical Engineers
Member: Materials Research Society
Member: Society for Biomedical Engineering

Research Statement

Our lab’s research is centered on the synthesis and characterization of functional polymeric materials. The core of this research is aimed at leveraging synthetic techniques and processing methods to manipulate polymer structures at various length scales and to use these structures to control bulk and interfacial material properties. We study both synthetic polymers and naturally occurring biopolymers, with current research projects focusing on advanced materials for medical, composite, and green technologies. Below are two examples of research areas in which we work.

Liquid Crystalline Materials. Liquid crystalline (LC) polymers are materials that are capable of forming ordered phases due to alignment of rigid molecules called mesogens. Order-disorder transitions are dependent on mesogen structure and may be triggered by various stimuli, including changes in temperature, concentration, or electric field (i.e. as in liquid crystal displays). In LC polymers and networks, mesogens are covalently linked to the polymer, thus changes in mesogen order can be translated into macroscopic changes in the polymer. These changes may impart active behavior onto the polymer, including actuation and shape memory properties. Our lab works on novel methods for preparing robust LC polymers and networks. Particular interest is given to the development of soft, biocompatible, and/or biodegradable LC materials for utility in composite, regenerative medicine, or tissue engineering applications.

Biopolymers and Biomaterials. Natural polymers offer a distinct sustainability advantage over many petroleum-based polymers in that they originate from renewable resources. Silks are natural, fibrous structural proteins, and silkworm silk is a readily available commodity biopolymer. In addition to its impressive mechanical properties, silkworm silk is distinctive because it is easily modified using either aqueous or organic solvent-based chemistries and is more adaptable to conventional polymer processing methods than other proteins. In our lab, natural biopolymers are explored in combination with synthetic polymers for various uses, including medical applications. Of particular interest is the design of materials to interface with biological environments with altered inflammatory signaling, which is a common denominator of many chronic diseases. In these diseases, a material offers an alternative to systemic treatments and provides opportunity for site-directed modulation of mammalian cell signaling.

Previous Positions

2012-2013 NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Fellow, Tufts University
2011 Lecturer, Tufts University
2010-2013 Postdoctoral Scholar, Tufts University
2006 Teaching Assistant, Case Western Reserve University
2005-2010 Ph.D. Candidate, Case Western Reserve University
2005-2008 NSF Graduate Fellow, Case Western Reserve University

Awards & Honors

2012 National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award
2009 Materials Research Society Graduate Student Silver Award
2007 American Chemical Society ICI Graduate Student Award in Applied Polymer Science
2005-2008 National Science Foundation Graduate Student Fellowship

Selected Publications

Burke, K.A.; Mather, P.T. “Evolution of Microstructure during Shape Memory Cycling of a Main-Chain Liquid Crystalline Elastomer.” Polymer 2013, 54, (11), 2808-2820.

Heard, A.J.; Socrate, S.; Burke, K.A.; Norwitz, E.R.; Kaplan, D.L.; House, M.D. “Silk-based Injectable Biomaterial as an Alternative to Cervical Cerclage: An In Vitro Study.” Reproductive Sciences 2012 (Published online ahead of print December 27, 2012). DOI: 10.1177/1933719112468952.

Burke, K.A.; Mather, P.T. “Crosslinkable liquid crystalline copolymers with variable isotropization temperature.” Journal of Materials Chemistry 2012, 22, (29), 14518-14530.

McKenzie, B.M.; Wojtecki, R.J.; Burke, K.A.; Zhang, C.; Jakli, A.; Mather, P.T.; Rowan, S.J. “Metallo-Responsive Liquid Crystalline Monomers and Polymers.” Chemistry of Materials 2011, 23, (15), 3525-33.

Davis, K.A.; Burke K.A.; Mather P.T.; Henderson J.H., “Dynamic cell behavior on shape memory polymer substrates.” Biomaterials 2011, 32, 2285-2293.

Burke, K.A.; Mather, P. T. “Soft Shape Memory in Liquid Crystalline Elastomers.” Journal of Materials Chemistry 2010, 20, (17), 3449-3457.

McKenzie, B.M.; Miller, A.K.; Wojtecki, R.J.; Johnson, J.C.; Burke, K.A.; Tzeng, K.A.; Mather, P.T.; Rowan, S.J. “Improved synthesis of functionalized mesogenic 2,6 bisbenzimidazolylpyridine ligands.” Tetrahedron 2008, 64, (36), 8488-8495.

Burke, K.A.; Sivakova, S.; McKenzie, B.M.; Mather, P.T.; Rowan, S.J. “Effect of stoichiometry on liquid crystalline supramolecular polymers formed with complementary nucleobase pair interactions.” Journal of Polymer Science, Part A: Polymer Chemistry 2006, 44, (17), 5049-5059.

Gao, W.; Hagver, R.; Shah, V.; Xie, W.; Gross, R.A.; Ilker, M.F.; Bell, C.; Burke, K.A.; Coughlin, E.B. “Glycolipid polymer synthesized from natural lactonic sophorolipids by ring-opening metathesis polymerization.” Macromolecules 2007, 40, (2), 145-147.

Calvert, C.; Burke, K.A.; Suib, S.L. “Spontaneous and self-assembled line formations on silicon substrates with vanadium pentoxide sol-gels.” Journal of Physical Chemistry B 2005, 109, (47), 22685-22691.

Contact Information
Phone(860) 486-3133
Mailing Address191 Auditorium Road, Unit 3222, Storrs, CT 06269-3222
Office LocationIMS-205B