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Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

A head and shoulders picture of Damien Guironnet pictured in a lab wearing a suit.
Damien Guironnet

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Center for Advanced Study announced that Damien Guironnet, a chemical and biomolecular engineering professor, is among eleven newly elected fellows for 2021-2022. The CAS identifies the top scholars on campus and provides one semester of release-time from teaching duties for fellows to concentrate on creative work. 

Untenured faculty from all departments are eligible for this program; appointments are made based on a rigorous nomination and election process. During their term, CAS Fellows can pursue self-initiated programs of scholarly research or professional activities. They are also invited to deliver a CAS presentation and participate in a roundtable discussion of research interests. 

Guironnet joined the department in 2014. His group develops new catalysts and processes for the synthesis of polymers with unprecedented control. He was elected based on his proposal, “Automated Polymer Synthesis to Accelerate Discovery.” 

During his fellowship year, Guironnet’s group will further advance the design-to-synthesis strategy protocols that they have pioneered. This strategy enables the conversion of a hand drawing of a polymer’s shape or molecular weight distribution into an actual sample. 

“The precision and tunability of our methodology will allow us to use, for the first time, molecular shape to drive self-assembly,” Guironnet said. “Our most ambitious goal is to use the shape of the macromolecules to create supramolecular assemblies that can mimic the unique catalytic activity achieved by enzymes.”

“It is a privilege to join the ranks of so many distinguished scholars and also to have the opportunity to pursue research that will lay the foundation to open a new era in polymer synthesis,” he added.

Each year’s CAS Fellows become permanent members of the Center, which comprises the highest scholarly achievement across campus. The CAS hosts public lectures, long-term visits by world-renowned scholars, interdisciplinary symposia and a variety of educational programs, and other special events for its members. 

News source

Claire Benjamin

Congratulations to Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Assistant Professor Damien Guironnet, who was chosen to receive a 2019 Young Investigator Award from the American Chemical Society’s Division of Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering (PMSE).

Young Investigators are early-career leaders who have made significant contributions in their respective fields within polymer materials science and engineering, according to the division.

Damien Guironnet

Professor Guironnet joined the University of Illinois Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in 2014. His lab develops new catalysts and catalytic processes for the synthesis of new polymers with a focus on sustainability.

As a young investigator award recipient, Guironnet will deliver a talk at the fall national meeting of the American Chemical Society. He will present research on shape-controlled synthesis that he has been working on in collaboration with ChBE Assistant Professor Charles Sing. They have developed a simple method to engineer the molecular geometry of bottlebrush polymers.

Congratulations to graduate student Dylan Walsh, who was selected to present at the upcoming Excellence in Graduate Polymer Research Symposium.

The symposium, organized by the POLY division of the American Chemical Society, is held at the spring national meetings of the society to recognize outstanding graduate students in polymer science and engineering, foster networking and exposure, and help develop the careers of future leaders in the field of polymers.

Graduate student Dylan Walsh (left) and his advisor, Prof. Damien Guironnet

Dylan is also one of four recipients of the Wiley book award who will be honored at the ACS POLY symposium.

A graduate student in Assistant Professor Damien Guironnet’s research lab, Dylan received his BS in Chemistry from the University of Minnesota. He joined the Guironnet Lab in Fall 2014.

“We have developed an automated flow reactor that enables the production of ‘designer polymers’ which are polymers with any shape, size and composition,” Walsh said. “This research was enabled by bringing together reactor engineering, controlled polymerizations and mathematical modeling. This material platform can be used to help advance virology, drug delivery development and the creation of new self-assembling materials,” he said.

His talk, “Flow-enabled control over macromolecule architecture,” will focus on a new and improved version of the lab’s research that was highlighted in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science earlier this year.

The work being presented is also in collaboration with lab of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Assistant Professor Charles Sing.

The annual meeting will be March 31 to April 4, 2019.

Congratulations Dylan!

By gaining control over shape, size and composition during synthetic molecule assembly, researchers can begin to probe how these factors influence the function of soft materials. Finding these answers could help advance virology, drug delivery development and the creation of new materials.

“We approached this new research concept not by trying to fix a problem, but by asking what is possible when it comes to soft-molecule synthesis,” said Damien Guironnet, a chemical and biomolecular engineering professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and lead author of a new study. “What if we can gain control over things like shape, size and composition during molecular synthesis – what does that mean?”

The findings are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Damien Guironnet, right, and graduate student Dylan Walsh developed a new technique that allows them to program the size, shape and composition of soft materials. Credit: L. Brian Stauffer.

For years, scientists have struggled to clarify how nanoparticle shape and size influence their behavior within living tissue, the researchers said. “The size of the synthetic molecules we are creating correspond to the size of viruses,” said Dylan Walsh, a chemical and biomolecular engineering graduate student and study co-author. “Observations made from controlling these factors will allow researchers to probe these types of questions.”

The team combined classic chemical synthesis techniques and basic chemical engineering principles. They introduced precise control over the polymer formation sequence via the flow rate of the building blocks used. By altering flow rate, the new process can yield soft matter with unique architectures, the researchers said.

“We use mathematical modeling to predict the shape, size and composition of molecules we create and use computer-guided synthesis in the lab to adjust the flow rate of the mixtures that control the architecture of the polymer,” Guironnet said.

The researchers felt it was not enough to simply state that they can do this – they needed to prove it.

“Our mathematical modeling does not include any assumptions so there is really nothing else that can be formed other than what we model, but math is not something you can see,” Guironnet said. “Shape is something we can see, and we were able to verify with microscopic imaging that we formed polymers consistent with what we predicted.”

The team achieved this with synthetic molecules that are soluble in organic solvents, but the next step will be to move onto water-soluble molecules. “If we truly want to better understand our immune response and improve drug-delivery specificity, we need these to be water-soluble so that they can work in our bodies,” Guironnet said.

The researchers view this work as a big step forward in advancement of soft-material synthetic polymer science.

“We have access to new building blocks, and now we can work on figuring out how we can use these blocks to assemble new materials at the molecular level,” Walsh said. “We think of it as playing with Legos to see how the shape of the individual building blocks influences the final product.”

By Lois Yoksoulian, U of I News Bureau

The National Science Foundation supported this study.

To reach Damien Guironnet, call 217-265-0233;

The paper “Macromolecules with programmable shape, size and chemistry” is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau.

Congratulations to Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering students who have been awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships!

Launched in 1952, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program is the nation’s oldest and largest fellowship program for graduate students. It is also one of the most prestigious.

This year Danielle Harrier, ChBE PhD student with Dr. Damien Guironnet’s research group, was awarded a fellowship. Two members of Dr. Brendan Harley’s lab—ChBE senior Elijah Karvelis and MatSE grad student Marley Dewey—were awarded fellowships. Kevin Cheng, a Biophysics graduate student and member of Dr. Diwakar Shukla’s lab, also won the fellowship.

Harrier’s research with Assistant Professor Guironnet focuses on the development of a strategy to synthesize biodegradable polymer latex by emulsion ring opening polymerization.

“The technical challenge of this approach is to perform the water sensitive polymerization in an aqueous media. Therefore, the innovative aspect of my strategy is that I will utilize microfluidics techniques to encapsulate the catalyst in a hydrophobic nanoreactor and thus protect it from water,” she said.

Harrier completed her undergraduate studies at the University of New Mexico and began the PhD program in Chemical Engineering in Fall 2017.

“The research at U of I is at the forefront of understanding and solving current global issues, and I am excited to add to the breadth and depth of research being done by my PI, Professor Guironnet, by furthering research in sustainable polymers,” she said.

Elijah Karvelis graduates this May and plans to pursue a PhD. He is currently deciding between three schools.

His project in the Harley lab has been on developing biomaterial platforms for studying brain cancer, specifically leveraging microfluidics to look at invasion of cancerous cells.

The NSF awarded honorable mentions to ChBE graduate students Isamar Pastrana-Otero (Kraft Lab), Bijal Patel (Diao Lab) and Whitney Sinclair (Kenis Group).

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $1.2 million, three-year grant to four professors in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering for a project that has potential to advance the frontiers of 3-D printing. Drs. Charles Sing, Ying Diao, Damien Guironnet, and Simon Rogers intend to create a platform for designing advanced materials that allows makers to tune the structure and function of a material on-the-fly.

Not long after arriving on campus, the team of investigators, each an assistant professor with a different research background and set of skills, got together to brainstorm what intriguing challenges they could solve together. Take camouflage. Camouflage is only effective as long as the person wearing it remains crouched in the jungle or standing by a sand dune in the desert. What if you had a material that could provide camouflage in many different environments, and you control how it works? Chameleons change color by adjusting skin structure at nanometer-length scales. Could humans design something similar with advanced materials processing?

“What we’re talking about is making a device, an object, instrument, from ostensibly the same material. It has different properties in different parts of the material,” Rogers said. Imagine a Lego brick that has one transparent wall, but the brick is made from all the same material. There’s one material with different properties, and the maker controls the material’s properties.

The project has two overarching goals: develop a screening method for versatile, 3-D printable block copolymer materials, which are two or more different polymer chains linked together; and screen to optimize flow-based tuning of morphology in 3-D printed materials. That entails testing their hypothesis that tuning the flow in 3-D printing will allow for on-the-fly or on-demand manipulation. Insights gained from their research could have potential applications in camouflage, antireflection coatings, metamaterials and displays.

Professors Ying Diao, Damien Guironnet, Charles Sing and Simon Rogers

For this project, each faculty member brings a distinct set of skills and expertise. Charles Sing, who works in molecular simulation and theory, will provide what he described as a treasure map. His research will guide the synthesis that occurs in the lab of Damien Guironnet, the self-described “cook.” Because Sing will be predicting some of the molecule’s properties beforehand, Guironnet will be able to synthesize the molecules that will make the polymers with the unique structure needed for the process.

From there, the material is handed over to Simon Rogers and members of his lab, who carefully control different flow conditions and investigate how the structures reorganize. Rogers then feeds information gleaned from his experiments and analysis to Ying Diao’s group. Diao will take the novel molecule and, with the knowledge of how this material reacted to Rogers’ experiments, she will attempt to make a functional material using 3-D printing.

Rogers then feeds information gleaned from his experiments and analysis to Ying Diao’s group. Diao will take the novel molecule and, with the knowledge of how this material reacted to Rogers’ experiments, she will attempt to make a functional material using 3-D printing.

“One key issue we’re interested in is the assembly, how to direct the assembling of the materials because it’s critical to the function,” Diao said. “In this case, we’re interested in the photonic properties. Can we potentially make camouflage using this functional material by assembling the material into highly ordered structures? We’ll be able to sensitively modulate the structure over length scales predicted by Charles Sing.”

What they’re doing could be called a “high-risk, high-reward” type of project, Diao said, because proposing to physically change structure on the fly is a fairly new idea. “The challenge is, how the assembly of this novel class of materials respond to flow is previously unknown. Flow-directed 3D printing is also not demonstrated before and requires significant innovation to realize,” she said.

Faculty anticipate discoveries and some surprises along the way because the material they’ll be working with is new and the process, called non-equilibrium processing, is still a relatively new concept, they said.

The grant comes from the NSF’s Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future (or DMREF) program, which specifically funds projects that aim to develop advanced materials quickly and at a fraction of the cost.

What makes the project unique is each investigator has a role to play in each other’s research. Due to the iterative, multi-project investigator structure, there will be a lot of coordination involved and each faculty member will need to understand results from their colleagues to be able to apply it to their own research.

“It’s an exciting challenge,” Guironnet said. “We get the opportunity to understand each other’s work to increase the impact of our own research. And at the same time, I get to extend my expertise as well,” he said.

What’s also unique about the group is that each investigator is an assistant faculty member. They all joined the department within about a year of each other.

“Because we’re new professors, there’s been a focus on building our own reputations, our own lab expertise. This is our moment to do something bigger than that, and that is extremely exciting,” Sing said.

Thanks to the NSF funding, faculty also plan to expand their outreach projects in computation, characterization and synthesis, via the Girls’ Adventures in Math, Engineering and Science (GAMES) summer camp and the St. Elmo Brady STEM Academy, which exposes underrepresented elementary students to STEM fields.

More information about the grant can be found here.


Congratulations to Dr. Damien Guironnet, who was recently recognized by the University of Illinois School of Chemical Sciences for his teaching excellence in the 2015-16 academic year. Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering graduate student Arkaprava Dan also received an SCS Teaching Award.

The SCS teaching awards recognize “the entire scope of our educational efforts, from course development to in-class instruction. Excellence in teaching is not only intellectually satisfying, but our instructional efforts immeasurably strengthen our research mission,” said SCS Director Dr. Jonathan Sweedler in the announcement.

Assistant Professor Damien Guironnet
Assistant Professor Damien Guironnet

Guironnet is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He joined the faculty in 2014 from BASF Corporation where he worked as a senior research scientist. He received his M.Sc. from Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’enseignement en Chimie in France in 2005 and his Ph.D. from the University of Constance in Germany in 2009. Guirronet develops new catalysts and catalytic processes for the synthesis of new polymers with a focus on sustainability.

Other faculty recipients of the SCS Teaching Awards for the 2015-2016 school year include Alison Fout, Assistant Professor in Chemistry; and Michael Koerner, Instructor in Chemistry.

Arkaprava Dan is a member of Reid T. Milner Professor Deborah Leckband’s research group. Other SCS graduate students receiving the teaching awards include Thomas Bearrood, Michael Drummond, and Sudharsan Dwaraknath from the Department of Chemistry.

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