January, 2023
Image of Jessica Schiffman standing at a lab bench
Jessica Schiffman Wins NSF Grant to Sustainably Produce Polymer Membranes for Water Purification

Jessica Schiffman, Gary R. Lapidus Faculty Fellow in Chemical Engineering, has received a National Science Foundation grant to produce polymer membranes — a process that currently generates billions of liters of toxic, solvent-contaminated wastewater a year — using a sustainable, environmentally friendly and toxin-free method. 

Polymer membranes are used in water purification systems to remove particulates and waterborne pathogens from water and wastewater. Since the 1960s, the membrane manufacturing process has used non-solvent-induced phase separation, which generates more than 50 billion liters of contaminated wastewater each year. During operation particulates accumulate on the surface of the membranes, causing them to need regular physical and/or chemical cleaning, which increases process downtime and causes membrane degradation. 

Read full article at the UMass News Site

January, 2023
Image of Reika Katsumata
Rao and Katsumata Receive Young Investigator Research Program Awards from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research

UMass Amherst’s Siyuan Rao, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and Reika Katsumata, assistant professor of polymer science and engineering, are two of 58 researchers to receive grants from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR).

Rao has received a grant from the AFOSR to develop next-generation engineering techniques that will allow scientists to investigate the nervous system and neurobiological questions behind neurological and psychiatric disorders including depression, addiction and social deficits.

Reas the full article at the UMass News Site

November, 2022
Picture of Reika Katsumata
Reika Katsumata Wins Pair of Prestigious Awards

Reika Katsumata, professor of polymer science and engineering, has received two prestigious awards: the PRESTO Award from the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) and the 2022 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award.

The PRESTO award is one of the most prestigious awards for early-career researchers who are either Japanese citizens or residents. The award, which amounts to 52 million Japanese yen (or $360,000-$440,000, depending on the exchange rate) promotes unique and challenging basic research to address some of the important problems facing Japan.

Katsumata will use her PRESTO award to spend the next three-and-a-half years developing universal cross-linkers for network polymers that can be reprocessed with ultrasound-mediated bond exchange reactions.

Read full article at the UMass News Site

November, 2022
UMass PSE Alumni Carmen Covelli named Dupont Pedersen Award Winner
Carmen Covelli, Technical Laureate; Mobility & Materials, Hytrel®; Wilmington, DE


Covelli innovates across applied polymer, fiber, and formulation sciences to develop new products for the Rynite®, Crastin®, Hytrel® and Kevlar® product lines  and has made significant contributions to prior DuPont products such as Sorona®  polymer and Lycra® fiber. Covelli’s innovations have contributed to significant growth in sales to textile, carpet, ballistics, and resins applications. In addition to her technical prowess, she is highly valued for her boundless enthusiasm, leadership and passion for sustainability, mentorship, and talent recruitment

Read Dupont's announcement here

September, 2022
New Theory on Dipole-Dipole Interactions. Long ignored, dipole-dipole interactions give life its shape

In a discovery with wide-ranging implications, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently announced in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that uniformly charged macromolecules—or molecules, such as proteins or DNA, that contain a large number of atoms all with the same electrical charge—can self-assemble into very large structures. This finding upends our understanding of how some of life’s basic structures are built.

Traditionally, scientists have understood charged polymer chains as being composed of smaller, uniformly charged units. Such chains, called polyelectrolytes, display predictable behaviors of self-organization in water: they will repel each other because similarly charged objects don’t like to be close to each other. If you add salt to water containing polyelectrolytes, then molecules coil up, because the chains’ electrical repulsion is screened by the salt.

However, “the game is very different when you have dipoles,” says Murugappan Muthukumar, the Wilmer D. Barrett Professor in Polymer Science and Engineering at UMass Amherst the study’s senior author.

While many molecules have either a positive or negative charge, dipoles have both. This means that polymers composed of dipoles behave very differently from the more familiar polyelectrolytes, which have either a positive or negative electrical charge: they expand in a salty solution and can form cross-links with other dipole polymer chains, which then leads to the formation of complex polymer structures.

Read full article at the CNS News Site

September, 2022
Polymer Self-Assembly & Interfaces - ACS Symposium in honor of Tom Russell

The 2022 ACS Fall Meeting included a symposium in recognition of Tom Russell's profound impact in polymer science. The symposium "Polymer Self-Assembly & Interfaces: Symposium Honoring Thomas P Russell's Career in Polymer Science" was organized by alumni and included thirty-seven talks.

Read full article at the PSE news site

September, 2022
Professor Steve Granick - Robert Barrett Chair of Polymer Science and Engineering

The PSE Department is delighted to announce the hiring of Professor Steve Granick, who has been nominated for, and will soon be affirmed as, the new Robert Barrett Chair of Polymer Science and Engineering.  Granick is a world-renowned polymer scientist who previously was Professor at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and Director of the Center for Soft and Living Matter at the Institute of Basic Science in South Korea.  Granick gained his B.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton University and the University of Wisconsin, respectively, and he did two post-doctoral stints, one at the University of Minnesota with Matt Tirrell and one at the Collège de France with P.G. de Gennes.  His research has had major impacts in topical areas as diverse as interface science, colloids, polymers, biomacromolecules, membranes, complex liquids, solution and melt physics, lubrication, active matter, rheology, and imaging science.  Granick has garnered numerous honors, notably the Polymer Physics Prize of the American Physical Society and the Surface and Colloid Chemistry Prize of the American Chemical Society.  He is a Member of the U.S. National Academy of Arts and Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.  Granick will be appointed Adjunct Professor in the departments of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, and Physics.

Read full article at the PSE news site

April, 2022
How to Help the Medicine Go Down: How UMass Amherst Scientists are Helping to Engineer the Next Generation of Medications

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently announced that they have engineered a new class of material, called a “polyzwitterionic complex,” or “pZC,” which is able to both withstand the harsh acidic conditions of the stomach and then dissolve predictably in the comparatively gentle environment of the small intestine. This property means that pZCs could help revolutionize the delivery of medicines of all sorts, from familiar oral antibiotics to new classes of delicate protein therapeutics.

“Despite the common experience of swallowing medications orally, there is a huge number of therapies that are not available orally,” says Khatcher Margossian, the lead author of the study and a candidate for a dual M.D./Ph.D. from Rush Medical College and the UMass Amherst Department of Polymer Science and Engineering, respectively. This is because there are many drugs that can’t withstand the stomach’s harshly acidic environment. Two ways around this problem are to either inject or implant medications; but in both cases, the pain, fear and potential side effects can limit a patient’s willingness to undergo treatment or to stick with the treatment plan through its full course. And even those drugs that are strong enough to withstand the stomach’s acid and make it through to the small intestine, where they can be absorbed into the bloodstream, often do not make it through entirely intact. “The doses of oral medications are usually larger than what our body really needs,” explains Murugappan Muthukumar, the Wilmer D. Barrett Professor in Polymer Science and Engineering at UMass Amherst and the study’s senior author. “This is because some of the medication decomposes in the stomach.”

Read full article at the UMass News Office

February, 2022

A team of researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently announced in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they had engineered a new rubber-like solid substance that has surprising qualities. It can absorb and release very large quantities of energy. And it is programmable. Taken together, this new material holds great promise for a very wide array of applications, from enabling robots to have more power without using additional energy, to new helmets and protective materials that can dissipate energy much more quickly.

“Imagine a rubber band,” says Alfred Crosby, professor of polymer science and engineering at UMass Amherst and the paper’s senior author. “You pull it back, and when you let it go, it flies across the room. Now imagine a super rubber band. When you stretch it past a certain point, you activate extra energy stored in the material. When you let this rubber band go, it flies for a mile.”

This hypothetical rubber band is made out of a new metamaterial—a substance engineered to have a property not found in naturally occurring materials—that combines an elastic, rubber-like substance with tiny magnets embedded in it. This new “elasto-magnetic” material takes advantage of a physical property known as a phase shift to greatly amplify the amount of energy the material can release or absorb.

Read full article at the UMass News Office

February, 2022

Researchers led by a team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently announced a major theoretical and experimental breakthrough that allows scientists to predict, with an unprecedented precision, when a soft material will crack and fail. The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have immediate implications for the engineering and manufacture of a wide range of polymers. They also provide insights into how natural soft materials—such as the connective tissues in our bodies and even our brains—break down.

It has proved devilishly complex to predict when a soft material, such as a gel or elastomer, will crack and fail. “It’s been a mystery,” says Alfred Crosby, professor of polymer science and engineering at UMass Amherst and one of the paper’s senior authors. Because scientists haven’t been able to accurately predict when a soft material will fail, designers typically over-engineer their products and recommend replacing them earlier rather than later, just to be safe. “But if we could predict exactly when a product would fail, and under what conditions,” says Crosby, “we could engineer materials in the most efficient way to meet those conditions.”

Read full article at the UMass News Office