Christian Pester

Continuous flow photopolymerization

Polymers are all around us. Recent years have brought forth significant efforts and advances in controlled polymerization techniques. The precise tailoring of macromolecular architectures has allowed these materials to conquer our lives beyond plastic bags and onto myriad applications. The resulting sophisticated nanoscopic structures are widely considered promising materials for biotechnological procedures to achieve well-defined drug release with spatiotemporal control.

However, on an industrial scale, these complex syntheses are often inefficient with respect to time and cost. Safety also continues to be a concern for multi-step reactions due to related chemical processing/purification steps and worker exposure to hazardous materials. Significant effort is being put forth to eliminate these risks by changing current batch reactor processes towards continuous flow reaction systems.

This project will develop synthetic and engineering methodologies to for packed-column reactors for continuous flow photopolymerization. Taking advantage of recent advantages in photoredox catalysis, we will attempt to design a macroscopic catalyst to perform complex polymerization reactions with precise control over molecular weight, polydispersity, and composition.

Secondary structure in optically active polymer brush surfaces

(with Dr. Robert Hickey, Department of Materials Science)

The immobilization of polymers on substrates to form polymer brushes is a potent means to control physical properties and functionalities of surfaces. The ability to control spatial distribution of the surface functionalization is a promising idea for molecular sensing of biomolecules and lab-on-a-chip applications.

Synthetically, these films can be manufactured via surface-initiated controlled radical polymerization (SI-CRP) techniques, which allow precise control over polymer property and functionality. Furthermore, CRP can regulate polymer tacticity, i.e., the relative orientation of individual repeat units along the polymer backbone. Controlled tacticity is anticipated to form complex secondary macromolecular structures, which again inherently influences the properties of the resulting materials (e.g., optical properties).

Although techniques for CRP are well-established, there are only limited reports regarding the control and analysis of surface-grafted polymer tacticity on surfaces. The resulting secondary structures are considered highly valuable for applications in molecular recognition and sensing.

This project will focus on the synthesis and study of tacticity-controlled polymer brushes. We will use SI-CRP and other synthetic methods to manufacture well-defined polymer brushes and use analytical tools such as ellipsometry, X-ray reflectometry (XRR), and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) to characterize and study the physical properties of the resulting surfaces.

Faculty Research Links

Contact Information

Manish Kumar, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering
REU Program Coordinator

Esther Gomez, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering
REU Program Coordinator

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