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DSM Science and Technology Award Americas 2015 goes to Stephen Ma for breakthrough research in polymer wrinkling

Sittard, NL, 13 Nov 2015 10:00 CET

Royal DSM, a global science-based company active in health, nutrition and materials, today announced that the DSM Science & Technology Award Americas 2015 has been awarded to Stephen Ma from the University of Delaware, USA. The award recognizes the development of a highly original wrinkling technique to make patterns on the surface of a polymer. This new system could have the potential to open up whole new application fields, ranging from creating artificial tissues, anti-fouling surfaces, optical coatings to tunable lenses.
Stephen Ma (r) receives DSM Science and Technology Award Americas 2015 from Dr. Eric Grolman, DSM Principal Scientist (l)

The award was bestowed this year in collaboration with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Process Development Division, Particle Technology Forum and Catalysis and Reaction Engineering Division and was presented during the organization’s 2015 Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, which featured leading DSM chemical engineers as speakers.

The Science and Technology Award Americas is part of DSM’s Bright Science Awards program, which is designed to nurture, recognize, and reward excellence in research fields of key interest to DSM: health, nutrition and materials. DSM has been presenting these awards for more than 25 years, and the Science and Technology Awards now span three continents, honoring bright young scientists in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

The Science and Technology Award Americas 2015 recognizes excellence in innovative Ph.D. research in the field of Polymer Technology, and is open to all Ph.D. students. The theme of the 2015 competition, was the development of polymerization processes and process technologies for novel polymeric performance materials.

Wrinkling: not a flaw but opening up numerous opportunities in material functionality

Stephen Ma’s research focused on polymer wrinkling. Wrinkling is widely viewed as undesirable imperfections on the surface of a material. However when controlled it is exceptionally good at increasing the surface roughness (topography) of a material. This may give way to interesting material functionality in the areas of new antifouling coatings, optical coatings and tunable lenses. One fundamental challenge was still the confinement and alignment of wrinkles on the PDMS elastomer. Stephen Ma received the award for his Ph.D. research developing a new wrinkling system to solve this issue by creating an innovative way in which light is used to create wrinkled patterns on a polymeric surface, like lithography.

The patterns can mimic structured surfaces from nature or direct the growth of cells into predefined structures. This can enable efficient, cost-effective and tunable functional materials for a wide variety of applications. His Ph.D. Research was conducted at the University of Delaware under the supervision of Christopher J. Kloxin and Norman J. Wagner.

DSM Chief Technology Officer, Marcel Wubbolts: “DSM is convinced that science can change the world. That’s why we focus our scientific talent on addressing key challenges that the world is facing in areas such as health and wellness and climate and energy. Solving problems in these fields requires breakthroughs in Polymer (Process) Technology – that make it possible to use polymers in ways that were never possible before. We’re constantly looking for inspiration from the outside world. The research of young talent like Stephen Ma acts as fuel for the next-generation solutions the world needs, and we’re proud to bestow the Science & Technology Americas award in recognition of this.”

Nature-inspired functionality combined with easy and sustainable production

Final judging of the award took place during a dedicated DSM Science and Technology Award session that was part of the AIChE event, at which the four candidates delivered short lectures on their research. The winner was announced during a special Process Development Division reception by Eric Grolman, DSM Principal Scientist in Chemical Engineering: “Adding nature-inspired functionality to the surface of polymers with the technique presented by Stephan Ma, could be the next leap forward in the use of polymers in a variety of applications. I particularly like the easy and sustainable way of manufacturing he has introduced, by exposing substrates to light. This could bring industrial production a lot closer.”

Kelsey Kettelhut, Engineering Associate, Progam Development of AIChE: “We are excited about the cooperation with DSM in organizing this Science & Technology Award Americas. It is crucial that we  recognize bright young scientists in Engineering Sciences. They have a key role to play in bringing sustainable solutions to the problems that the world faces today, by advancing this exciting field of science.”

The runners-up for the DSM Science & Technology Award Americas 2015 were:

  • Dr. Nisarg Shah, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA
    Ph.D. thesis: “Use of a layer-by-layer (lbl) polymer coating technique that forms tunable modular, nanoscale coatings”
    Ph.D. supervisor: Paula T. Hammond
  • Dr. Yisu Nie, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
    Ph.D. thesis: “Reactor modeling and recipe optimization of polyether polyol processes Polypropylene glycol”
    Ph.D. supervisor: Lorenz T. Biegler
  • Dr. Yuanxin Chen, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA
    Ph.D. thesis: “Polymerization of High-Molecular-Weight of Polyvinylamine for CO2-selective Membranes with high separation performance"
    Ph.D. supervisor: W.S. Winston Ho