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Five Questions with the New IMat Advisory Team
Featuring Blair K. Brettmann: Assistant Professor & Solvay Faculty Fellow, Co-Director; Georgia Tech Polymer Network, School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering & School of Materials Science and Engineering
1. What is your field of expertise and at what point in your life did you first become interested in this area?
Polymers. I worked with polymers in my PhD, but only used them as carrier materials and never dug deeper into the science or their properties. When I worked in industry for Saint-Gobain, I was in a polymer group and discovered how complex and interesting polymer science and especially polymer processing could be, so I decided to focus more on them moving forward.
2. What questions or challenges sparked your current materials research?
Polymers are long chain molecules, so they behave very differently than other material types. They have slow changes in properties since they need time to move, they behave differently when the chain is stretched out vs distributed throughout a globule and they have many chemical functional groups that can interact with other components in a mixture. If we can understand all these complex phenomena, we can more quickly design new and improved polymer-based products and even understand how to better recycle or remove them from the environment.
3. Why is your theme area important to the development of Georgia Tech’s Materials research strategy?
A major challenge for materials engineers today is working towards a more sustainable world, including for consumer products, many of which contain polymers either as their primary component or as a coating or binder. Georgia Tech has the base polymer community to become a leader in solving polymer sustainability challenges, both in designing new polymer systems and in better end of life for existing ones. Strategically drawing this group together will better allow our expertise and talents to make a difference in materials sustainability.
4. What are the broader global and social benefits of the research you and your team conduct?
Consumer plastics and polymer-containing materials are ubiquitous in the modern world and have led to many excellent outcomes in public health, preventing food spoilage, light weighting materials and more. However, they also are increasingly of concern for the environment through poor end of life degradation and challenges in recycling. Research to better understand polymers, fully integrating fundamental science and engineering design, is necessary to provide better plastics and processing for end-of-life.
5. What are your plans on engaging a wider GT faculty pool with IMat research?
I plan to partner with the Georgia Tech Polymer Network and host a series of discussions with applications specialists in consumer and industrial materials to understand the polymer science challenges in these areas and build bridges between applications and polymer faculty. I also plan to build on Georgia Tech’s core strengths related to consumer-focused polymers including polymer upcycling, machine learning for polymer design and polymer processing to link the experts to specific challenges across campus.
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