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Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Schroeder receives NSF CAREER Award

Assistant Professor Charles Schroeder from Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering received a five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, which will allow Schroeder and his research team to push into uncharted territory with molecular-level studies of branched polymer chains using new single molecule tools.

These tools will be developed as part of Schroeder’s project “Molecular Rheology of Architecturally Complex Polymers” that will help carry out new and cutting-edge research on branched polymers.

During the past few years, Schroeder has worked to address many of the steps in polymer processing such as design and synthesis of materials and detailed studies of the flow processing of polymers, all of which help his research group to attack problems in materials design at the molecular level. 

“Taken together, our research has the potential to enable the coupled synthesis and characterization of polymers that will ultimately enable the targeted molecular design of new, advanced materials with desired processing properties and function,” he said.

These polymers are the basis for many technologies ranging from consumer plastics to electronics. Schroeder says it has been more than 50 years since the rapid growth of synthetic materials spurred the mass production of polymers on an industrial scale.

“Despite tremendous progress in the field, we still lack a full understanding of the flow properties of entangled polymer solutions,” he says. “A major challenge in polymer processing arises from the unusually complex flow properties of branched polymers, wherein molecular topology ultimately determines macroscopic material response. To overcome these challenges, a new molecular approach to probe dynamics is required. The goal of my CAREER program is to provide the first single molecule study of branched polymer dynamics in flow using well-characterized materials.”

Schroeder said this research focuses on developing a detailed understanding of single molecule processes that will produce bulk viscoelasticity. “This aim is of paramount importance to a wide-array of technologies, because the flow processing of polymers generally underlies many industrial processes,” he said. “Our work will provide crucial insight into the improved processing and manufacturing of branched polymers.”

Schroeder said he is honored to receive the award and ready to begin this project.

“I am elated to have received the NSF CAREER Award,” Schroeder said. “I am very happy that my work was recognized in the field as being current, relevant, important, and rigorous. We are taking the field of molecular rheology and polymer dynamics in new directions, and I was quite happy to know that our work is recognized by other experts in the field.”

Department Head Paul Kenis, who also received a CAREER award in 2006, said Schroeder is a leader with his research. “Charles’ research on the dynamic properties of novel polymer architectures is at the forefront of the field,” Kenis said. “Him receiving this award, as well as the substantial federal research grant that goes with it, is a well-deserved honor.”

Schroeder received his B.S. in chemical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and his M.S. and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Stanford University. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley before joining the faculty at Illinois in 2008.

The CAREER grants are the most prestigious awards given to the best young university faculty in a highly competitive annual program. These teacher-scholars are recognized for their outstanding research, excellent education and the lifelong integration of education and research.

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