University of Akron Leads National Polymer Science Efforts
One of the most respected scientific minds in the world has been courted in the past by several universities in America and beyond. But Dr. Stephen Cheng says he only wants to work at the University of Akron.
The university’s dean of the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering says he will always be loyal to Akron thanks to something that happened in the late 1980s. Cheng was an assistant professor of polymer science in 1987 at the University of Akron and was promoted to dean in 1988, during difficult national economic times.
“To pay my dean’s salary, I found out later that eight associate professors took pay cuts so that I would accept the top job in the polymer science department,” Cheng says. “I have never forgotten that kindness and show of confidence, and look to give back every day to help make the University of Akron continue to be the leader in polymer science that it is today.”
More than 35,000 people are currently employed in Akron in 400 polymer-related enterprises, helping to position the city among global leaders in polymer research and engineering.
“It used to be that polymers were only known for making rubber here in Akron and then plastics, but polymers in 2011 are used in medicine, IT, energy, sustainability and much more,” Cheng says.
Ten Incredible Labs
In October 2010, the department opened a brand new National Polymer Innovation Center on campus, thereby allowing academic researchers and industry partners to focus on providing solutions to emerging research challenges in a variety of areas. Those areas include sectors such as biomaterials synthesis, biosensor and bio-device design, photovoltaic cells and selectively permeable membranes.
The NPIC houses 10 laboratories equipped with high-tech research instrumentation and an advanced bay area where polymer prototypes can be fabricated.
“This center will evolve quickly into a regional and national research resource facility with unique equipment and expertise in polymer research,” Cheng says.
Healing Wounds, Dissecting Nanoparticles
The Innovation Center is also home to two other specific research entities — the Center for Biomaterials in Medicine, and the Akron Functional Material Center. The Center for Biomaterials in Medicine focuses on innovation in wound-healing and orthopaedic research, while the Akron Functional Material Center has a mission of developing solutions for industry challenges in complex fluids, nanoparticles, adhesion, membranes, biomaterials and automation.
“The Akron Functional Material Center is structured around elevating the technology level of research discoveries and new polymeric materials in the areas of biomaterials, energy and sustainability,” says Dr. Matthew Becker, University of Akron associate professor of polymer science. “The center is especially versatile because it is part of an academic institution. We have a large collection of resource-level and research capabilities.”
More Brain Power
Cheng adds that a goal in 2011 and beyond for the entire Department of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering is to attract more American students into the curriculum. The department currently has 80 full-time and seven part-time graduate students, with 30 percent of the full-time students hailing from the United States while 70 percent are from other parts of the world.
“Another department objective is to always have 100 percent of our graduates find challenging industrial and governmental positions in research, development and production of polymers and composite materials,” he says. “If you are a graduate of polymer science from the University of Akron, you will always be in demand.”