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Justin Barone

Bio-polymers and Bio-inspiration Laboratory
Center for Soft Matter and Biological Physics
Macro-molecules Innovation Institute
Biological Systems Engineering
Virginia Tech
301D HABB1 (0554)
1230 Washington St. SW
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Research Interest: Polymer Physics, Soft/Bio Materials

Research Snapshots 

Research Slide


Ph.D. Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH (2000) Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Dissertation topic: Rheological and rheo-optical studies of melt flow instabilities. Prof. Shi-Qing Wang, Advisor.

M.S. New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, NJ (1997) Engineering Science. Thesis topic: Silicon dioxide/Vycor glass membranes for use in gas separations. Prof. Roland Levy, Advisor.

B.S. Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA (1994) Materials Science and Engineering


Professor, Biological Systems Engineering Department, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, June 2018-present.

President/Owner, Protein Q, Inc., Roanoke, VA, August 2014-present.

Associate Professor (w/ tenure), Biological Systems Engineering Department, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, June 2011-May 2018.

Co-Owner, Eastern Bioplastics, LLC, Mount Crawford, VA, March 2008-November 2016.

Associate Professor (w/o tenure), Biological Systems Engineering Department, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, January 2007-June 2011.

Research Chemist, USDA/ARS, Beltsville, MD, September 2002-December 2006.

Advanced R&D Engineer, Polymer Diagnostics, Inc. (a division of the PolyOne Corp.), Avon Lake, OH, April 2000-September 2002.

Research Assistant, BP Chemicals Fellow, Case Western Reserve University, Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering, Cleveland, OH, January 1997-March 2000.

Research Assistant, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Materials Research Group, Newark, NJ, January 1996-December 1996.

Project Engineer, Utility Development Corporation, Livingston, NJ, January 1995-January 1996.


Editorial Board Member, Scientific Reports and Green Materials.

Courses Taught Last Five Years

  • BSE 3154 Thermodynamics of Biological Systems
  • BSE 3504 Transport Processes in Biological Systems
  • BSE 3524 Unit Operations in Biological Systems Engineering
  • BSE 4524 Biological Processing Plant Design
  • BSE 4604 Food Process Engineering

Other Teaching and Advising

In the past 5 years, I have mentored 10 undergraduate students and 2 high school science teachers in my research laboratory.  I also served as the director of the NSF-REU: Bioprocess Engineering for Sustainability and the ICTAS-REU: Soft matter physics, from theory to application.  Each year I mentor graduate students and student design teams.  In the summer we have over 100 K-12 students in our laboratory to perform the Jell-O Plastics! hands-on lab.  I am the faculty advisor for the Virginia Tech Student Chapter of the American Chemical Society Rubber Division.

Program Focus

Research in the Biopolymers and Bioinspiration Laboratory is focused on discovering new biopolymer structures and bioinspired polymeric materials and low energy processes to form them.  Food Biopolymers like proteins and polysaccharides form networks with each other and the other molecules in the food like fats and flavor compounds.  Food biopolymers need to be properly hydrated to yield good texture and flavor.  Research focuses on biopolymer network formation and self-assembly, hydration level, and varying the hydrating molecules like water and sugars and how these factors influence food texture.  Bioinspiration allows us to adapt natural phenomena to engineering practice.  Flowers open and close and plant stems twist and curl to allow the plant to grow and thrive.  Research focuses on extruding and molding synthetic polymer systems that can also open and close and twist and curl just like their natural counterparts and describing the material mechanics that govern such complex shape change.  Research also focuses on understanding how environmental processes like water transport, sunlight, temperature, and impact allow plastic litter to breakdown to small microplastics (MPs) and become nuisances in the environment.  

The Renewable Materials Research Group is part of the Biomolecular Engineering Cluster at Virginia Tech, which includes the Biofuels and Carbohydrates Laboratory , Metabolic Engineering and Systems Biology Laboratory , Ruder Research Group , and Zhang Research Group .

Publications (last 5 years)

(agraduate student, bundergraduate student, chigh school science teacher, *corresponding author)

1.  J.P. Zainob and J.R. Barone*, “Analysis of the controlled fragmentation of plastics to microplastics,” (in prep).

2.  L.E. Hanzlya, N. Chauhanb, and J.R. Barone*, “pH responsive cyclic gelatin actuators,” (in prep).

3.  L.E. Hanzlya, K.A. Kristoffersonb, and J.R. Barone*, “Biologically controlled gelatin actuators,” Green Materials, submitted (2020).

4.  N. Christensenb, C.E. Wisingerb, L.A. Maynardb, N. Chauhanb, and J.T. Schubertb, J.A. Czuba*, J.R. Barone*, “Transport and characterization of microplastics in inland waterways,” Journal of Water Process Engineering, in press (2020).

5.  B.L. DeButtsa and J.R. Barone*, “Processing-property relationships in wheat protein-isoprene rubber composites,” Rubber Chemistry and Technology, in press (2020). DOI: 10.5254/rct.20.80448

6.  L.E. Hanzlya, B.L. DeButtsa, D. Shellb, and J.R. Barone*, “Protein aggregation in aqueous polyvinyl alcohol solutions,” Green Materials, 8(1), 32-39 (2020). DOI: 10.1680/jgrma.19.00012

7.  B.L. DeButtsa, R.V. Thompsonc, and J.R. Barone*, “Hydrolyzed wheat protein as a self-assembled reinforcing filler in synthetic isoprene rubber vulcanizates,” Industrial Crops and Products, 141, 111815 (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.indcrop.2019.111815

8.  B.L. DeButtsa, N. Chauhanb, and J.R. Barone*, “Agricultural proteins as multifunctional additives in ZnO-free synthetic isoprene rubber vulcanizates,” Journal of Applied Polymer Science136, 48141 (2019). DOI: 10.1002/app.48141

9.  C.E. Wisingerb, L.A. Maynardb, and J.R. Barone*, “Bending, curling, and twisting in polymeric bilayers,” Soft Matter, 15, 4541-4547 (2019).

10.  L.A. Maynardb, B.L. DeButtsa, and J.R. Barone*, “Mechanical and thermal properties of polyolefin thermoplastic elastomer blends,” Plastics, Rubber, and Composites: Macromolecular Engineering, 48(8), 338-346 (2019). DOI: 10.1080/14658011.2019.1625633

11.  A.M. Davisb, L.E. Hanzlya, B.L. DeButtsa, and J.R. Barone*, “Characterization of dimensional stability in flax fiber reinforced polypropylene composites,” Polymer Composites, 40, 132-140 (2019).

12.  B.L. DeButtsa, C.R. Spiveyc, and J.R. Barone*, “Wheat gluten aggregates as a reinforcement for poly(vinyl alcohol) films,” ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, 6, 2422-2430 (2018).

13.  B.L. DeButtsa, L.E. Hanzlya, and J.R. Barone*, “Protein-polyisoprene rubber composites,” Journal of Applied Polymer Science, 135, 46026 (2018).

14.  W. Zhanga, J.R. Barone, S.H. Renneckar*, “Reducing the heterogeneity of xylan through processing,” Carbohydrate Polymers, 150, 250-258 (2016).

15. W. Zhanga, N. Sathitsuksanoh, B. Simmons, C.E. Frazier, J.R. Barone, and S.H. Renneckar*, “Revealing the thermal sensitivity of lignin through structural analysis,” RSC Advances, 6(36), 30234-30246 (2016).

16.  D.M. Hall, I.R. Bruss, J.R. Barone, and G.M. Grason*, “Morphological selection via geometric frustration in chiral filament bundles,” Nature Materials, 15, 727-732 (2016).

17.  W. Zhanga, N. Sathitsuksanoh, J.R. Barone, and S.H. Renneckar*, “Enhanced enzymatic saccharification using glycerol thermal processing (GTP),” Bioresource Technology, 199(1), 148-154 (2016).

18.  G.P. Noble, D.W. Wang, D.J. Walsh, J.R. Barone, M.B. Miller, K.A. Nishina, S. Li, and S. Supattapone*, “A structural and functional comparison between infectious and non-infectious autocatalytic recombinant Prp conformers,” PLoS Pathogens, 11(6), e1005017 (2015).

19.  E.C. Clauncha, D.M. Ridgleya, and J.R. Barone*,Completely self-assembled fiber composites,” Composites Science and Technology, 117, 1-8 (2015).

20.  D.M. Ridgleya, C.M.W. Rippnera, and J.R. Barone*, “Design and construction of large amyloid fibers,” Fibers, 3(2), 90-102 (2015).  (invited feature article)

21.  W. Zhanga, J.R. Barone, and S.H. Renneckar*, “Biomass fractionation after denaturing cell walls by glycerol thermal processing,” ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, 3(3), 413-420 (2015).

Peer-Reviewed Conference Proceedings (last 5 years)

1.  B.L. DeButtsa and J.R. Barone*, “Cure and mechanical properties of filled, ZnO-free, sulfur-cured isoprene rubber,” Society of Plastics Engineers ANTEC Proceedings, Paper#TBD, p. , March 2019, Polymer Modifiers and Additives Section.

2. L.A. Maynardb, C.E. Wisingerb, and J.R. Barone*, “Mechanical actuation in polymeric bilayers,” Society of Plastics Engineers ANTEC Proceedings, Paper#TBD, p. , March 2019, Thermoplastic Elastomers Innovations and Applications Section.

3.  L.A. Maynardb, B.L. DeButtsa, and J.R. Barone*, “Elastic recovery and actuation in polyolefin thermoplastic elastomers,” Society of Plastics Engineers ANTEC Proceedings, Paper#TBD, p. , May 2018, Thermoplastic Elastomers Section.

4.  B.L. DeButtsa, Renee Thompsonc, and J.R. Barone*, “Wheat protein as a participant in the sulfur-curing of isoprene rubber,” Society of Plastics Engineers ANTEC Proceedings, Paper#TBD, p. , May 2018, Bioplastics Section.

5.  B.L. DeButtsa, L.E. Hanzlya, and J.R. Barone*, “Self-assembled protein-rubber nanocomposites,” Society of Plastics Engineers ANTEC Proceedings, Paper #286, p. 469-473, May 2017, Bioplastics Section.

6.  B.L. DeButtsa, C.R. Spiveyc, and J.R. Barone*, “Compression-molded protein-PVA nanocomposite films,” Society of Plastics Engineers ANTEC Proceedings, Paper #287, p. 1256-1261, May 2017, Flexible Packaging Section.


Recent Funding

2018-2019  VT-ICTAS-REU, “ICTAS REU Site: Soft Matter Physics, from Theory to Application,” $10,000 (PI)

2016-2020  USDA-NIFA, “Compounding amyloid reinforcement into rubber,” $283,884 (PI)

2016-2018  NSF-CBET, “Multi-scale metabolic modeling and engineering workshop,” $17,304 (co-PI)

2016  NSF I-Corps, “In situ nanofiller formation during polymer processing,” $50,000 (PI)

2015-2016  NSF-I/UCRC-CenTiRe, “In situ nanofiller formation during tire rubber compounding,” $44,520 (PI)