His work has been profiled by The New York Times, National Public Radio, and his research findings appear in a number of scientific journals. He is a Professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where he teaches courses in chemistry. In addition to being in the Department of Chemistry, he is also a Professor of Materials Engineering at Purdue University.
Outside activities include advocacy for federal funding of science research and development.
His research group is working to understand how animals adhere to surfaces in the wet marine environment. Much of this work has been with mussels and oysters.
Key findings include observations indicating that mussels use iron to cure their protein-based adhesive. Oysters have been shown to produce a cement with chemistry quite different from that of mussels.
Another aspect of Wilker’s research program is in biomimicry.
He is using information learned from marine biology to make new adhesive materials. Of note is development of a polymer adhesive that can bond more strongly than commercial Super Glue. Wilker is also working in applications development, in particular using biomimetic materials to develop new adhesives for general use as well as, specifically, for surgeries.
One challenge in replacing biomedical sutures and screws is obtaining adhesives that can set in the wet environment of the body.
Wilker is showing that biomimetic adhesives can bond underwater to make strong bonds. Another aspect of applications development is making coatings to prevent shellfish adhesion on ship hulls, to decrease drag and fuel consumption.