Research

Research in my group focuses on the properties, and applications of polymeric and nanocomposite materials. The work lies at the interface of chemistry, materials science, and chemical engineering. Students in my group are exposed to diverse topics including polymer structure and properties, self-assembly, mass transport, synthesis, and surface science.

Energy Efficient Membrane Separations

Membranes have significant potential advantages for a number of industrially relevant separation processes due to their low energy requirements and ease of scalability.  We are interested in using novel polymeric and polymer nanocomposite materials to create new membranes.  These include polymer membranes for gas phase separations (e.g. olefin/paraffin, CO2 capture) and nanocomposite membranes for liquid phase separations (e.g. water desalination.)

 

Sustainable Water Production: We are currently focusing on the effects of nanoparticle size, shape, and surface functionality on the effect transport at the interface between the nanoparticle filler and an interfacially polymerized polyamide matrix.  We have previously demonstrated the inclusion of functionalized carbon nanotubes that increase water flux and decrease biofouling, and are now exploring the use of new, sustainable nanomaterials (i.e. cellulose nanocrystals) and multifunctional nanomaterials (i.e. metal-organic frameworks – MOFs) as well as novel functional polymers for the production of desalination and ion transport membranes. We are also collaborating with other groups to study the performance of these membranes for forward osmosis (FO) wastewater treatment applications.

Gas Separation Membranes: We are collaborating with a group in sustainable biomaterials to explore the gas separation (and gas barrier) properties of novel functionalized cellulose diacetate polymers.  These renewable materials can be modified with a variety of functional groups (anionic, cationic, zwitterionic, etc…) to tune interactions between gas species and the polymer matrix. We are also examining novel ionic polymers containing functional counterions. These membranes have potential applications in carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as well as natural gas and hydrogen production.

Novel Sorbents and Technologies for Carbon Capture

We are collaborating with research groups in mechanical engineering and chemistry, as well as with several local companies, to develop new materials and processes for capturing carbon dioxide.  These materials include structure porous materials (such as MOFs), functional polymers, and functionalized mesoporous materials, and are targeting carbon capture from point sources (e.g. flue gas from coal of natural gas fired power plants) as well as direct air capture (DAC) of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Structure-Property-Processing of Advanced Materials

The development of polymer morphology during processing is still not well understood. This is a serious gap in understanding that prevents the prediction of properties (physical, transport, etc…) and the optimization of processing methods. We are developing experimental techniques (X-ray scattering and rheometry) capable of probing the microstructure and morphology development in situ during polymer processing (i.e. film casting, 3D printing). The goal is to develop kinetic models that will then be refined in order to create a system for the evaluation of novel polymeric materials and the optimization of processing. These have applications in membranes, adhesives, elastomers, nanolithography and many other areas.

 

Understanding the Morphology and Processing of Nanocomposites: Polymer nanocomposites have diverse applications ranging from the high tech (carbon nanotube membranes) to the low tech (carbon black and silica filled tire materials.)  Despite this, the structure of the inter-phase region between a polymer matrix and the nanoparticulate is often not well understood.  Our goal in this work is to apply a suite of characterization methods (both in situ and ex situ) to gain an understanding of the structure and development of the polymer-nanoparticle interface during nanocomposite processing.