Mistakes are most welcome in Justin Barone’s laboratory.

After all, some of the most interesting work going on in Barone’s shop in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Biological Systems Engineering is a result of an unintended consequence.

“Everything we are working on right now was a mistake at one time,” said Barone. “Something unexpected happened and we kept looking at it.”

Because Barone is a believer in taking chances, looking under the unknown rocks of research, and walking down scientific roads others don’t dare venture.

“You have to go down that path, because it is going to lead somewhere,” he said.

Case in point: Barone and his students were playing around with agricultural byproducts — gluten — to see what they could do with it.

Let’s break it up into smaller pieces and see if we can make glue out of it, they thought. But when they did this, something unexpected happened — the gluten started to build itself into defined structures such cylinders and flat bars. He had no idea it was going to happen. It was an accident.

Now, Barone’s lab is working with grants form the National Science Foundation to build parts for cars or airplanes or what-have-you from gluten. His work could lead to an inexpensive, environmentally friendly building material that could replace plastic.

“I’m not looking for incremental change, I’m looking for the next big thing,” he said. “And to do that, you have to be willing to take chances and make a few mistakes on the way. The important thing is figuring out what those mistakes are trying to tell you.”

By Zeke Barlow

Academic Programs and Research Communications Manager

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences