Paulette Spencer

School of Engineering - Mechanical Engineering
Deane E. Ackers Distinguished Professor
Primary office:
Learned Hall, 3111
University of Kansas
1530 West 15th Street
Lawrence, KS 66045


Expertise and Current Research Activity

Virtually everyone in the U.S. is at risk for oral disease. More than 40% of children in the U.S. have tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, decay is the most prevalent infectious disease in children in the U.S. In 2006, the repair of teeth destroyed by decay, trauma or age translated to 173 million fillings in the U.S. and more than half were replacements for failed fillings. These numbers will increase as dentists use more polymers (plastics).

A weak link in these plastic filling materials is the attachment to the tooth. Interestingly, anytime two dissimilar materials are joined the weakest link will generally be the interface. In the mouth, a biocompatible adhesive is used to bond the plastic filling material to the tooth. This adhesive, which forms a film less than one-fourth the thickness of a human hair, must not break when stressed by eating, talking or grinding your teeth. This adhesive must not dissolve in acids produced by bacteria, food or beverages. The adhesive must maintain a strong bond between the tooth and plastic filling material whether you are chewing on ice or drinking hot coffee.

I am known as a pioneer in molecular-level investigations of material/tissue interfaces. Reactions at the atomic, molecular and nano-scales initiate failure of biomaterials used to repair and restore tissues in the body. Armed with an understanding the reactions that lead to failure, members of my research team are engineering peptides to provide antimicrobial materials. My research team is developing a new generation of multi-functional materials for repair, reconstruction and regeneration of oral and craniofacial tissues. 


Research Interests

  • Biomaterials
  • Dental materials
  • Material/tissue interfacial phenomena and characterization

Selected Publications

KU Today
One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
5th nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets: Colleges," Military Times