MURRAY, Ky. — Murray State University Department of Chemistry Associate Professors Dr. Kevin Miller and Dr. Daniel Johnson have been awarded a $233,931 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study conductive materials and electroactive technologies.
The grant is sponsored by the NSF Division of Materials Research and is part of the Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) initiative, which supports the development of nationally recognized research programs and the integration of research and education at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs).
“Undergraduate research is a must-have for students coming from PUIs in order to compete with students from larger, research-oriented institutions,” said Miller. “With these funds, we can provide paid summer opportunities for students to gain the hands-on education and research experience they need to be more competitive when applying to graduate programs or in pursuing a job.”
The grant will offer summer research positions to 12-15 students within the next three years at Murray State as well as efforts in research and undergraduate education during the academic year, possibly affecting an additional 15-20 students each year.
Some summer positions will be reserved for local high school students in an effort to recruit prospective STEM majors. The program will provide participants with a groundbreaking research experience that will prepare them for STEM-related majors, careers and pre-professional schools.
“This grant will have a major impact on Murray State’s goal of being recognized as one of the top student-centered and research-active primarily undergraduate universities in the nation,” said Johnson. “We see a significant amount of educational and professional growth in students who participate in hands-on research experiences like these.”
Miller said these grants are extremely competitive and thus have become increasingly difficult to get, especially at a PUI. In the past three years, only 20 percent of more than 60,000 proposals submitted to the NSF were funded.
The grant will allow PIs and their students to utilize a novel, cost-effective and rapidly curing polymerization platform to prepare a library of charge-containing polymers with tunable thermal, mechanical and conductive properties.
Materials prepared from these studies will be evaluated in carbon dioxide capture and separation, ion-sensing devices and in the formation of electroactive fibers and could provide advanced functions in energy devices such as lithium ion batteries and electromechanical actuators.
Dr. Harry Fannin, chair of the department of chemistry, will provide a key supporting role in studying how the polymer films will separate and sequester carbon dioxide from other products of fossil fuel manufacturing, most notably nitrogen and methane.
On the first floor of Jesse D. Jones Hall, the Polymer and Materials Characterization Laboratory houses a number of key thermal and mechanical instruments needed to perform the proposed research.
The techniques and data acquired from this grant will be used to develop new laboratory experiments to supplement current course offerings in organic, analytical and polymer chemistry. The grant is expected to further enhance the recently developed Polymer and Materials Science degree track offered by the department of chemistry.