Two Polymer Scientists Garner Top Accolades

AMHERST, Mass. - Two faculty researchers in the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts have received prestigious awards in the field. William MacKnight will receive the Herman F. Mark Award, presented by the American Chemical Society (ACS). Richard Farris has been named to receive the Council for Chemical Research''s (CCR) Malcolm E. Pruitt Award for 2001.

"The naming of University of Massachusetts researchers to two of the major awards in the high-profile field of polymer science is extremely significant," said University Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Charlena Seymour. "We are proud of the world-class stature of the Polymer Science and Engineering Department and the contributions it makes to the campus and the Commonwealth."

The Herman F. Mark Award, presented by the division of polymer chemistry of the ACS, recognizes outstanding research and leadership in polymer science. The award is sponsored by Dow Chemical Foundation and carries an honorarium of $2,000, as well as travel expenses to the 2002 Biennial Polymer Symposium later this year in Sonoma, Calif. MacKnight will give an award address at a half-day technical symposium, followed by a reception.

MacKnight is an expert in the characteristics of polymers and polymer blends. He studies how the material properties of polymers - strength and stiffness, for instance - relate to their basic underlying molecular structure. He specializes in blending polymers to produce new materials with unique properties, a procedure he compares with combining metals to create a metal alloy. Polymer blends are becoming increasingly important in industry.

MacKnight joined the UMass faculty in 1965 as a member of the chemistry department, and became part of a small group of faculty responsible for creating the polymer science and engineering program in 1966. The program received department status in 1974. He served two separate terms for a total of 16 years as head of the Polymer Science and Engineering Department, returning to the faculty in 1995. He was instrumental in securing funding for the Silvio O. Conte National Center for Polymer Research on campus. MacKnight has received a slate of prestigious awards, including membership in the National Academy of Engineering.

He is a Fellow of both the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has also received the American Chemical Society Award in Polymer Chemistry, and the Ford Prize in High Polymer Physics, which he was awarded jointly with faculty colleague Frank Karasz. He was named a Distinguished University Professor and was awarded the Wilber D. Barrett Chair in Polymer Science and Engineering. He is currently the Wilmer D. Barrett Chair Emeritus.

The Pruitt Award, which Farris will receive, recognizes outstanding contributions to the progress of chemistry and chemical engineering by promoting mutually beneficial interactions among universities, the chemical industry, and government. The honor consists of an engraved award and $5,000, which will be donated to the chemistry or chemical engineering department of Farris'' choice for the support of institutional and research activities.

Farris is donating the sum to the Polymer Science and Engineering Graduate Student Club for the organization''s K-12 outreach activities promoting science and engineering at schools in the Pioneer Valley. MacKnight will receive his award at the Sonoma symposium, later this year. Farris will be recognized at the Council for Chemical Research meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, this spring. A banquet will be held to honor Farris at the Cincinnati meeting where he will address the audience.

Farris has been at the University of Massachusetts for 28 years and served for five years as department head, until 2001. Farris holds the title of Distinguished University Professor, one of 24 at the University. His research has had a pronounced effect on the way polymer properties are determined and modeled. His area of expertise is experimental mechanics combined with a solid foundation in continuum mechanics and physics.

He and his research group have pioneered many new experimental methods to probe basic, but difficult-to-measure, phenomena. They have relied on data provided by these techniques to model the behavior of polymers and their composites. These methods continue to form the basis for much of the research conducted in his laboratories. His current research group has 10 Ph.D. candidates and four visiting scientists. He has authored approximately 300 research publications including 15 patents. In selecting Farris as the Pruitt Award winner, the CCR noted the Fire-Safe Polymer Program established in 1994 by Farris at UMass. The program involves the FAA and many industrial and government sponsors; his advocacy for modification of the intellectual property policies at the University to facilitate more positive interactions with industry and other sectors; and his leading role in building the Center for the UMass Industry Research on Polymers (CUMIRP).

Both MacKnight and Farris have been previously honored by the University for their research achievements with what is now called the Samuel F. Conti Faculty Fellowship Award. Collectively, they have graduated 96 doctoral students.