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Oklahoma State University

Chemistry Professor Awarded $400,000 NSF Grant

Mon, May 16, 2016
Jeffery L. White

Oklahoma State University professor of chemistry Jeffery L. White was recently awarded a three-year grant in excess of $400,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue his work in polymer science.  This is the fifth time the NSF has backed White’s research, giving him continuous funding since 2002. 

“I think the reason we have been successful with the NSF is we have been able to show how new, non-invasive approaches are necessary to understand how large molecules organize when they are mixed with different large molecules,” White said.  “Through the current project on tailored copolymer architectures we are attempting to design a mixing that the macromolecule system would not naturally achieve on its own.” 

This grant centers specifically on tapered copolymers, which are created by manipulating how the different polymer constituents are connected within each large molecular chain.  In previous research, White’s team discovered the transition zone where the junction is made has an enormous impact on the properties of the new molecule.  

“Even though the overall chemical composition (of the molecule) is constant, varying the ways of linking the chemical components together can change the entire physical properties of the material,” White says. 

Manipulating these junctions within each polymer chain has the potential to lead to advanced materials that have desirable toughness properties.  The connections are tapered in a way to allow the rigid properties of one molecule to mesh with the flexible properties of the other, creating a composite material that is very tough.  With traditional methods of combining the two molecules, they would phase separate, somewhat like oil and water, rather than create new materials.  

In 2014, White and colleague Clint Aichele, assistant professor and Harold Courson Chair of Petroleum Engineering at OSU, secured a $625,000 grant to bring in a new solid-state Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) instrument, which serves as an important tool for the NSF tapered-copolymer research.   Since the targeted materials have an amorphous structure, new characterization methods are needed to understand if desirable and stable phase structures have actually been achieved, and solid-state NMR methods offer many advantages. 

Additionally, a corporate partnership with Chevron Phillips Technical Center in Bartlesville aids development of practical applications.  One product to evolve from this partnership is a new type of anti-kink medical tubing.  

White became interested in polymer science during his postdoctoral fellowship with AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1992-93.  He spent the rest of the decade with ExxonMobil as a senior research scientist before returning to academia in 2000 at North Carolina State University, and was awarded tenure there in 2005.  He joined the Department of Chemistry at OSU in the fall of 2005 where, among other achievements, was named a Fulbright Research Fellow in 2010.  He received his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University in 1992 and has published approximately 80 peer-reviewed publications, patents, and book chapters.

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