Praise the polymer — college turns 25


Postdoctoral student Jiao Guo (left) and doctoral students Han Yan and Eric McClanahan conduct research at the National Polymer Innovation Center.

As the world's first and nation's largest academic program devoted to the study of polymers, The University of Akron's College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering has earned its share of bragging rights since its 1988 beginning. This month, the college celebrates 25 years of achievements:

  • Best-known and largest academic program in the world devoted to the study of polymers
  • World's largest concentration of polymer expertise
  • More than 200 active and pending U.S. patents resulting from polymer faculty research
  • $15.2 million in college research spending in 2012
  • 18 regional startup businesses

Consider the CPSPE's impact on the regional economy and beyond through such developments as nanofibers naked to the human eye, yet configured precisely to trap superabsorbent particles. These tiny particles are making their way to the marketplace — in high-performance bandages, chemical spill absorbency materials and other high-demand applications — thanks to technology developed at the college.

Doctoral students Cheng Qu (left) and Amy Blake work at a Hybrid Solution Casting line at the National Polymer Innovation Center at UA.

The technology, licensed by the UA Research Foundation and Struktol Company of America, led to the 2007 formation of SNS Nano Fiber Technology LLC in Hudson, Ohio, where four of the company's 12 employees bring their expertise as doctoral alumni of UA.

"Being on the cutting edge requires that you have access to the best and brightest in your field. Employing graduates from UA's polymer program has been an integral part of the success of SNS," says company director Laura Frazier, who received her Ph.D. in chemistry at UA. "Thanks, in part, to their expertise in the field of electrospun nanofibers, we're leading the world in the commercialized production of nanofiber nonwovens."

Leading the way in advanced materials with SNS are 17 other Northeast Ohio tech startups established to commercialize research out of the polymer college.

Research benefits regional economy

Just as Akron's "Rubber City" heyday came to a close by the late 1980s, the Northeast Ohio city rebounded back into the national spotlight as the "Polymer Capital" with the 1988 establishment of the college, home to the world's first and nation’s largest academic program devoted to polymer study.


President Luis Proenza's remarks at the college's 25th anniversary celebration.

With a steady growth of research funding, including $15.2 million in 2012, the college's faculty members have become synonymous with invention. In fact, faculty and students have invented or co-invented more than 200 active and pending U.S. patents. Alone, Dean Stephen Z.D. Cheng, the 2013 recipient the Polymer Physics Prize of the American Physical Society, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Physical Society, North American Thermal Analysis Society and American Chemical Society Division of Polymeric Materials, has received 11 issued U.S. patents, has four patent applications pending, and three provisional patent applications filed.

Doctoral student Isik Isil Nugay removes an injected LCD lens encapsulation from a prototyping mold in an electrical injection-molding machine at the NPIC.

Under Cheng's leadership, the National Polymer Innovation Center at UA opened in 2010 to merge the college's research expertise with business partners to develop new devices and materials for emerging industries, such as those dedicated to biomaterials and permeable membranes.

Recently out of the NPIC, for example, researchers developed techniques to fabricate self-assembled block copolymer thin films on an industrial level unavailable, until now. The self-assembly of the films into highly ordered nanostructures, made possible through processes invented by the researchers, allow them to be used on hard or flexible surfaces, such as sensors and electronics, says polymer engineering Ph.D. candidate Gurpreet Singh.

Worldwide impact

"The process should be of broad interest to microelectronics companies worldwide," says Alamgir Karim, associate dean of research and Goodyear Chair Professor of Polymer Engineering for the college. "Manufacturing of these nanostructures can be done on industrial platform such as UA's roll-to-roll manufacturing (developed by collaborator Distinguished Professor of Polymer Engineering Miko Cakmak) at relatively high speeds not possible previously."

Under Cakmak's leadership, UA has received $14 million over that last five years, leading to the development of the roll-to-roll manufacturing lines located at the NPIC to produce high value-added functional films, such as transparent conductors for the flexible electronics market, and to facilitate partnerships with local industry.

Such novel developments and collaborations underscore the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering's 25-year run as the frontrunner of polymer research worldwide.

"The tremendous growth of the college throughout the last quarter-century has led to a huge change of the University landscape and community. From rubber research, to plastics research and now leading to advanced materials, the college will continuously grow in new directions of science and technology," Cheng says. "With the dedication of our faculty, staff and contract professionals, we will sail the research flagship to an ever-brightening future."

Visit the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering to learn more.

Media contact: Denise Henry, 330-972-6477 or