Two chemical engineering grad students recognized for polymer physics research

University of Delaware doctoral students Melody Morris and Thomas Gartner, both of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, were selected as finalists for the American Physical Society (APS) Division of Polymer Physics (DPOLY) Frank J. Padden Jr. Award in 2019.

This award recognizes an outstanding graduate student in polymer physics research and garners nominations for candidates from all over the world. The winner was Liwen Chen from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

As two of just 11 finalists, Morris and Gartner were invited to give 12-minute oral presentations about their research at the Padden Award Symposium on March 5, 2019, at the APS March Meeting.

“This symposium selects the best graduate students working on polymer physics theory, simulation, and experiments from around the world,” said Arthi Jayaraman, graduate program director and  associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering with a joint appointment in materials science and engineering.   “To have two of 11 finalists from UD—that says a lot about these talented students and the strength of our polymer and soft materials research.”

Gartner, who is advised by Jayaraman, presented a talk on “Solvent quality and polymer concentration effects in linear and cyclic polymer solutions,” outlined his work simulating the behavior of polymers. “One of the interesting and important things about polymers is that their properties are controlled by phenomena that happen at very small length scales, as small as a billionth of a meter,” said Gartner. These phenomena are difficult to study in laboratories, so computer simulations can be useful especially in comparison with experimental measurements.

Gartner, who plans to pursue a postdoctoral position after graduating this year, said faculty and students in a variety of academic departments have helped him refine his ideas. “I have really benefited from the really strong polymer community here at the University of Delaware,” he said.

Morris, who is advised by Thomas H. Epps, III, the Thomas & Kipp Gutshall Senior Career Development Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering, gave a presentation titled “Leveraging conductivity-enhancing pathways in homopolymer-blended block polymer electrolytes.”

Morris works with block polymer electrolytes, which combine two polymers and offer an alternative over liquid electrolyte materials currently used in energy storage applications, such as batteries. Block polymer electrolytes may enhance performance and stability over other materials, but one drawback is that their conductivity is generally lower than that of single materials.

In her research, Morris found that by using an additive, a high-molecular-weight homopolymer, she could increase the net ionic conductivity of the material. “This technology could be useful in applications that currently require liquid electrolytes, such as grid energy storage,” she said. After she graduates later this year, Morris plans to pursue a postdoctoral research position.