Chemical Engineer Jessica D. Schiffman Receives First James Douglas Early Career Faculty Development Award

AMHERST, Mass. – Jessica D. Schiffman, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is the initial recipient of the Professor James Douglas Early Career Faculty Development Award. Douglas was a former faculty member and head of chemical engineering at UMass Amherst. The five-year, $125,000 grant award is being made “in honor of Professor Douglas’ research innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and ability to tackle complex problems using innovative and non-traditional approaches to achieve results.”

The Douglas fund provides an early career award annually to an untenured faculty member in the chemical engineering department. The funds are meant to support faculty whose entrepreneurial spirit and creativity is an inspiration to colleagues and students alike. Douglas was a recipient of the UMass Amherst Chancellor’s Medal and joined the chemical engineering department in 1968. He was department head from 1979-82, and retired in 1997.

Schiffman will use the funding to support her lab’s research on developing polymer hydrogels that resist microbial contamination. Delaying the onset of biofilm formation is imperative due to the high mortality rate that microbes impose to critically ill patients and those with compromised immune systems. Instead of relying on antimicrobials to kill the bacteria, her innovative approach is to optimize the physical properties of polymer materials. Schiffman’s findings hold the potential to transform the bandages and textiles that are currently used in the medical field.

The Schiffman Lab synthesizes materials from renewable polymers and bioactive products for biomedical and environmental applications. Current projects under study are antibiofilm coatings, nanofiber scaffolds for wound healing and membranes that purify drinking water. The research is interdisciplinary, drawing influences from chemical engineering, materials science engineering, environmental engineering and microbiology.

In the summer of 2013 Schiffman received a two-year, $174,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support her research into improving ultrafiltration membranes — a vital separation technology in drinking water purification plants and a broad range of industries, including blood filtration/treatment, protein purification, and metal ion recovery.

Schiffman earned her B.S. from Rutgers University in ceramic and materials engineering, a master’s degree from Cornell University in materials science and engineering, and a doctorate from Drexel University in materials science and engineering. She also completed a post-doctoral appointment at Yale University in chemical and environmental engineering. Schiffman joined UMass Amherst in 2011.