Meet the Scientist: NRL Scientist of the Quarter, Dr. Brad Ringeisen

Dr. Brad Ringeisen, Head of the Bioenergy and Biofabrication Section in the Chemistry Division at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), located in Washington, DC.

Dr. Brad Ringeisen, Head of the Bioenergy and Biofabrication Section in the Chemistry Division at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), located in Washington, DC.

Meet the Scientists is an Armed with Science segment highlighting the men and women working in the government realms of science, technology, and research and development: the greatest minds working on the greatest developments of our time. If you know someone who should be featured, email us

WHO: Dr. Brad Ringeisen

I graduated with a B.S. in chemistry from Wake Forest University in 1994, and then immediately entered graduate school at the University of Wisconsin—Madison Chemistry Department to study gas scattering and reactivity at liquid surfaces.  I graduated with a PhD in Physical Chemistry in 2000.  I then went to NRL for a two year postdoctoral associateship in the Materials Division to study laser deposition of biomaterials.  After that postdoc position, I was hired as a research chemist at in 2002, and I currently head an eleven member research group in the Chemistry Division at NRL. I also did a brief detail position at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Joint Science and Technology Office as a science and technology manager to help develop field forward diagnostic with wireless connectivity to the cloud. My research here at NRL is now focused primarily on applications of bioprinting to the Navy and DoD as a whole.

TITLE: Head of the Bioenergy and Biofabrication Section in the Chemistry Division at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), located in Washington, DC.

MISSION: The NRL provides mission support to the Navy and Marines through basic and applied research.

Tell us a little about your technology/science.

I helped develop a Navy-patented cell printing process termed Biological Laser Printing, or BioLP, that enables researchers to create complex patterns and interfaces of live human cells. BioLP can print patterns and 3D structures of materials ranging from living bacteria and mammalian cells to soil and paraffin-embedded tissue slices. It is quite possibly the most versatile bioprinter in the world.

What is the goal/mission of this technology/science and what do you hope it will achieve?

The biggest success stories coming out of NRL are those basic science projects that blossom into new discoveries, new applications and ultimately into products that could help save lives or improve capabilities of our Armed Forces. I’m a physical chemist by training so am a big believer in how chemistry is the best science! Just kidding…but there is some truth there. The Chemistry Division at NRL encompasses a tremendous breadth of research ranging from the cell and microbiology work my Section performs to nanoscience, battery and fuel cell research and even improving shipboard firefighting.

(Left to Right) Mr. Stephen P. Welby, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Dr. Melissa L. Flagg, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research, Mr. John Montgomery, NRL Director of Research, Mr. Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Dr. Bradley R. Ringeisen, Head of the Bioenergy and Biofabrication Section in the Chemistry Division at NRL

(Left to Right) Mr. Stephen P. Welby, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Dr. Melissa L. Flagg, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research, Mr. John Montgomery, NRL Director of Research, Mr. Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Dr. Bradley R. Ringeisen, Head of the Bioenergy and Biofabrication Section in the Chemistry Division at NRL

In your own words, what is it about this technology/science that makes it so significant?

There are several bioprinters in development right now all across the country and world. BioLP is unique because it does not use a traditional micro-tube or capillary-based printhead. Therefore, BioLP cannot clog and has been used to print a variety of materials including not only water-based cell inks but also gels and solids (including soil and sediment). BioLP has also been used in conjunction with Navy-patented biodegradable biopapers that can be easily printed to and then stacked to create 3D tissue mimics. These biopapers have been created with a range of material properties that mimic soft and hard tissues, whereas all other bioprinters are relegated to printing liquid inks and subsequently form soft tissues only. Additionally, BioLP has the ability to create really fine, small features of cells and therefore has the potential to mimic some of the micro-scale structure found in natural tissue.

This small pixel size and the ability to print solids without clogging makes it perfect for processing solid-phase, complex environmental samples such as soil and sediment.  The small pixel size inherently reduces the complexity of the soil—scaling the experiment down in size reduces the number and diversity of microorganisms in the sample. This gives the uncommon, undiscovered or slow growing microorganism a chance to grow in the absence of fast growing, high concentration microorganisms. Soil printing really was the first attempt to do this while attempting to keep the spatial organization (neighboring species) of microorganisms intact.

How could you use this technology/science to aid the military or help with military missions?

I answered some of this up in #6. However it is important to also know that 2015 was a significant year because we are creating a DoD 3D Bioprinting Consortium. I am leading a multi-institution charge that is linking NRL with the Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences (USUHS) and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC). NRL scientists and engineers have teamed with medical clinicians at USUHS and WRNMMC to begin bioprinting collaborations to study TBI, radiation exposure to tissue and skin replacement therapies.

Additionally, in 2015 alone we have isolated over a thousand microorganism cultures from sediment and soil. Bioprinting has enabled these isolations on a massive scale by the ease and speed at which small samples of soil and sediment can be partitioned, isolated and tested for culture success.  We are just starting to identify these microorganisms and test their functionality, but we are already seeing some antimicrobial properties and metal reduction by these microorganisms, and we are testing for carbon and nitrogen fixation functionality as well.  If successful, we may find new microorganisms and enzymes that could be used in a range of applications including carbon sequestration, discovery of new antibiotics, non-photosynthetic biofuel production and biodegradation of oil, polymers or coatings. Those are all application areas of interest to the DoD— helping to save lives and money while extending equipment and vehicle lifetimes and reducing our environmental impact. It’s a risky approach, bioprospecting essentially, but the payoff would be huge. We are also buffering this risk by sampling from unique environments where we know the functionalities we desire are located.

What do you think is the most impressive/beneficial thing about this technology/science and why?

3D bioprinting has been hyped and popularized by the media since the beginning, all the way back to the early 2000’s. Unfortunately, “organ printing” is something that EVERYONE can relate to and everyone wants! In reality, “organ printing”, essentially the production of implantable, on-demand tissues or organs for transplant therapy, is really a technology that is 25-50 years off (in my opinion). Although this might be the most beneficial and longest lasting application of this technology, I personally think that there are lower hanging fruit that will be quite impactful in the coming decade.  Specifically, our experiments on soil printing may have some of the biggest impact on society, especially if we can use it to find previously unculturables or undiscovered microorganisms that manufacture new antimicrobial compounds or new ways to fix carbon (CO2 sequestration and biofuel production). Additionally, more short term applications of “organ printing” will be to create in vitro (on-chip) tissues for drug discovery or testing. This is an easier regulatory path because you don’t have to implant tissues into humans. There are a lot of applications in drug testing (toxicity and efficacy) and discovery that can be performed on a high throughput well plate or in a microfluidic chip with 3D printed tissue as the assay format rather than 2D cell cultures.

What got you interested in this field of study?

I have a funny answer to this question.  Over the past decade, I have spoken to many K-12 students about scientific research and STEM education because I have three children (now 11, 14 and 15). One of the things I always tell these students is that I have been performing research in biology (specifically cell biology, tissue engineering, microbiology and molecular biology) for over 15 years, but my Ph.D. is in Physical Chemistry. I actively AVOIDED biology as an undergraduate, preferring the confines of math, physics and chemistry. When I arrived at NRL, my postdoctoral mentor Dr. Douglas Chrisey (now at Tulane University) insisted I pursue biology applications to some of his laser-based technologies.  I remember talking to him on the phone and saying something like “Doug are you SURE you want ME?  Are you sure you want to do BIOLOGY? Why not polymers?  I could do POLYMERS!” Well, I guess I have Doug to thank for sparking my interest in biology, that and a tremendous number of real biologists that have helped and taught me along the way—Dr. Barry Spargo (my Division Head and mentor), Dr. Joanne Jones-Meehan (Dept. of Homeland Security now) and Dr. Lisa Fitzgerald (ex-postdoc of mine and now colleague at NRL), just to name a few. I’m indebted to those individuals tremendously for educating me, sparking my interest and holding me to a standard that other biologists and peers would respect.

Are you working on any other projects right now?

I’ve mentioned most of my current projects.  We are starting one new program for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.  It is a basic science project so the applications would be many years out.  However, if successful, it would be pretty amazing. We are trying to create an “innervated” blood-brain-barrier (BBB) tissue.  The project is in collaboration with Professor Charles Lieber (Harvard University Chemistry Department), who has developed pliable, macroporous nano-field effect transistor (nanoFET) arrays capable of being seamlessly embedded in tissue cultures to continuously monitor the action potential of neurons without disrupting the function or viability of the cells. Our goal is to create a 3D blood-brain-barrier tissue incorporating these nanoFET arrays, eventually using them to map in real time virus infection, cell signaling and molecular diffusion through the tissue and across the barrier tissue. This technology could be used to help determine cellular response in real time, leading to insights about cellular mechanisms (and potential ways to intervene) during infection or trauma. Professor Lieber likes to call these types of systems “cyborg tissue” because the implications lead towards the brain-machine interface, ultimately advancing our understanding of how the brain functions.

If you could go anywhere in time and space, where would you go and why?

Can this be a non-scientific answer? If so, then I would go back to the seat right next to Steve Bartman on October 14th, 2003 and make sure he doesn’t interfere with the foul ball that Moises Alou was about the catch, thus catapulting the Chicago Cubs to the World Series.  I had posters of Bill Buckner and Ryne Sandberg at the head and foot of my bed when I was young. I recently showed my kids my baseball card collection from when I was young—apparently it wasn’t about collecting rare or valuable cards for me, it was all about the Cubs. I can name more Cubs from the 1970’s and 1980’s than I would like to admit.

If not, then it would probably be the first moon landing. I’m terrified of being in space, but purely hypothetically, that would be it. Being there and seeing that accomplishment firsthand, either in the control room or on the moon itself would be truly amazing. As a scientist, the moon program is the perfect example of what one nation focusing on and investing in research and development can accomplish. All too often our country forgets that investing in science feeds so much of our innovation and discovery—that’s what really drives our economy and could keep the United States as a world military and economic power for decades and centuries to come.

What is your best advice for budding scientists?

Perseverance. Perseverance.  Perseverance.  So often I see students wanting to get out of math or science because of failure. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true: what students and young scientists don’t understand is that failure is the pathway to success. Also, so many students or young scientists don’t think they are good enough or smart enough to succeed. In reality, what it takes to succeed in science, more than anything, is perseverance. If you keep trying and learn from your mistakes, then good things will happen.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

I would like to thank my parents and family for their support.  Both my mother and father were first generation college graduates, actually the first people from their families to enter and graduate from college. They both then went on to earn graduate degrees and my father eventually became Chancellor of the University of Illinois—Springfield. They are both very inspirational to me. My wife and kids are a constant grounding force for me and an excellent sounding board for ideas and presentations. I would also like to thank all the federal scientists in my Section at NRL—Dr. Justin Biffinger was one of my first postdocs and he still remains one of the smartest and hardest working scientists I know. I mentioned Dr. Lisa Fitzgerald earlier, but she really forced the non-biologists in our Section to become rigorous biologists.  Dr. Russell “Kirk” Pirlo has developed much of the recent technology associated with BioLP and biopaper. Dr. Preston Fulmer is always there to brainstorm ideas and print soil.  Lots and lots of soil. So I would not be here without their significant contributions.

For more about Dr. Ringeisen’s work, click here.

———-

Disclaimer: Re-published content may have been edited for length and clarity. The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense. For other than authorized activities, such as, military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sites, the Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this DoD website.