Spencer D. Brucks Research

Current Projects

1. Controlling polymer degradability through stereochemistry

Many plastics are used by humans for only a few minutes before being discarded to sit in a landfill for generations. New strategies to degrade plastics are urgently needed, and fundamental stereochemistry may provide a solution. Recent reports have shown synthetic polymers that adopt elongated linear conformations, rather than globular spherical ones, are more rapidly degraded by shearing forces into their constituent monomers. Typically, modifying polymer morphology requires changing the monomer identity and manipulating either sterics or charge. Instead, we will leverage stereochemical control of polymer backbones to dictate the overall chain conformation. We are therefore synthesizing polymers with variable backbone stereochemistry, and subsequently investigating their morphology and degradation profiles.

Current research students:

Aech Loar ’24
Britney Baez ’25

2. Developing selective nutrients for commensal bacteria

We are just beginning to understand that trillions of microbes live within us and are key regulators of our health. This dynamic population comprises both beneficial commensal organisms and harmful opportunistic pathogens. Historically, we have primarily managed our bacterial communities through antibiotics, but this has promoted the rise of antibacterial resistance. A potentially more sustainable approach will rely on supporting our commensal bacteria with prebiotics instead. We hypothesize that materials could be rationally engineered to selectively favor the growth of beneficial bacteria over pathogens. We are currently investigating how environmental conditions influence the growth of a leading probiotic and a competitive pathogen occupying the same ecological niche.

Current research students:

Ashley Tan ’25
Sarah Williams ’25
Nora O’Connor ’26
Rodrigo Rosas ’26