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Buz Barstow

Visiting Assistant Professor

Buz Barstow will join the faculty of Biological and Environmental Engineering in January 2018. Buz is a physicist whose interest in biology started with science fiction that painted a picture of technologies made with biology that could do things that that were unimaginable with physics and chemistry alone: materials and structures that could self-repair and even assemble themselves atom by atom, or change the face of a planet, doing it all at room temperature and pressure, in aqueous solvents. To get a unique perspective on biology as a physicist, Buz pursued a doctorate at Cornell in biological physics with Sol Gruner, and made the first high precision measurements of sub-angstrom changes in the atomic structure of a protein’s active site affect its function. The big problem to pursue came with Hurricane Katrina: biology might provide the perfect tools to solve the problems of climate and energy. To learn more about how to engineer biology, Buz pursued postdoctoral research at Harvard Medical School with Pamela Silver in synthetic biology, and was awarded an NIH NRSA fellowship to develop new enzymes to make hydrogen directly from sunlight and water, and then the Burroughs-Wellcome Career Award at the Scientific Interface to develop synthetic electroactive organisms that could fuse biological metabolism with renewable electricity. Buz realized that while natural biology has the potential to do amazing things, our ability to understand how it does them, and because of this to engineer it, is seriously limited. To solve this problem, he developed Knockout Sudoku, a technology that drops the cost of making a whole genome knockout collection, one of the most important genetic tools for any organism from millions of dollars to only a few thousand, and the time from years to only a few weeks. With this, he was able to make a whole genome knockout collection for Shewanella oneidensis, an electroactive microbe with possible applications in nuclear remediation, rare earth purification and artificial photosynthesis. Buz plans to use this technology at Cornell to apply this, and other microbes to problems in energy.

Research Focus

The Barstow lab’s mission is to solve problems in sustainable energy with applied biology. We will develop new tools to understand biology; understand the genetics and physics behind the amazing capabilities that biology brings to energy; and apply all of this to problems in energy.

In the first five years of the Barstow lab at Cornell, we plan on understanding the genetics and physics of the amazing capabilities that electroactive microbes like Shewanella oneidensis bring to energy; developing new ultra-low-cost genomic analysis tools that build upon Knockout Sudoku; and applying this knowledge to challenges in electrochemical energy storage; the recovery and purification of energy critical materials; and artificial photosynthesis.

Teaching Focus

Buz Barstow aims to develop e new generation of scholars and technologists and entrepreneurs who can attack problems at the intersection of biology, physics and energy. During my first year, I’ll be on teaching relief, but will be teaching Systems Biology starting in my 2nd year, along with a graduate class on energy and biology.