MURRAY, Ky. — Polymer and materials science is a growing area of research at Murray State University. Over the past several years, two Murray State chemistry professors, Kevin Miller and R. Daniel Johnson, have built the state-of-the-art Polymer and Materials Science Characterization Laboratory, providing students with a learning experience unique to both the region and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

The laboratory features a variety of instruments for testing various polymeric materials and devices. Murray State faculty and students routinely test the mechanical strength, density, flow rates, rheology, and thermal properties of different polymers.

The laboratory is supported by several large grants from the National Science Foundation, the Kentucky Science and Engineering Foundation and the Kentucky NSF Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. These external awards, valued at over $400,000, have enabled the University’s Department of Chemistry to purchase several new instruments and support the research efforts of a large number of students.

In the fall of 2018, Miller and Johnson were awarded their second NSF-MRI (Major Research Instrumentation) award to purchase a TA Instruments Discovery Hybrid Rheometer for the purposes of testing polymerization kinetics, shear stress/strain properties of polymers and polymer solutions, and ionic conductivities. Since 2016, 17 upper-level undergraduate and graduate students have conducted research on these polymer-related projects, leading to numerous student presentations and 11 peer-reviewed publications. Additionally, students who take CHE 325 (Organic Chemistry II Laboratory) utilize several of these instruments as part of a materials science experiment. Students enrolled in the polymer and materials science chemistry degree track (the only such program offered in the state) are trained on all of the instrumentation as part of their coursework and research experience.

According to Miller, the student projects encompass a variety of applications, including lithium ion batteries, ion-conductive devices and flue gas separation membranes. Students learn how to prepare the polymers and their precursors and gain valuable training and experience on a variety of instrumentation, as well as in the interpretation of their results. Recent graduates who have been a part of this program have gone on to careers in local industry or Ph.D. programs in chemistry, chemical engineering, or polymer/materials science.

Instrumentation in the laboratory includes a TA Instruments DHR-2 rheometer, TA Instruments Q200 differential scanning calorimeter (DSC), a TA Instruments Q500 thermogravimetric analyzer (TGA), a TA Instruments Q800 dynamic mechanical analyzer (DMA), a Waters gel permeation chromatography (GPC) system, two Brookfield viscometers (temperature control by water circulating bath), an Anton Paar density meter, a Form-Labs 3D printer, a UVP Blak-Ray B-100AP high-intensity UV lamp, a Stanford Research Systems QCM200 quartz crystal microbalance, a Carver Model 4386 benchtop hot press, and a spin coater.

“In the Polymer and Materials Science Laboratory, Murray State chemistry students have a unique opportunity to design, synthesize, and test cutting-edge materials,” said Dr. Kevin Revell, assistant dean of the Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology and chemistry department chair. “The students working on these projects are making foundational contributions to the science of materials, and developing skills and knowledge that may impact industries ranging from coatings to plastics to thin-film electronics. It’s an exciting time to be here.”

Photo: Professor Daniel Johnson (left) and Murray State senior Abby Bratton work with one of the instruments in the Polymer and Materials Science Characterization Laboratory.

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