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Mahanthappa advances polymer research

Jan. 22, 2016 - As a new faculty member in CEMS, Associate Professor Mahesh Mahanthappa's innovative research and expertise as a polymer scientist have greatly enhanced the department. Mahanthappa was previously on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but feels that CEMS is the best place to conduct his research because the department is at the forefront of polymer and soft materials science both in terms of stellar researchers and a broad suite of well-maintained core characterization facilities, much of which are supported by large research centers such as the Materials Research Science & Engineering Center (MRSEC), the Center for Sustainable Polymers (CSP), IPRIME, and others. Given his group’s interests in both polymers and liquid crystals, they have already benefited from the tremendous expertise within the Minnesota polymer group (Professors Bates, Lodge, Hillmyer, Macosko, Morse, and Reineke). CEMS has also been a hotbed for important developments in surfactant science (especially work by the late Skip Scriven and Ted Davis in microemulsions and liquid crystals), and this area remains a core research strength.

In terms of his research, Mahanthappa is interested in research problems situated at the interface between fundamental science and real-world applications, with an ultimate goal of having his lab develop useful materials that improve everyday life. A significant number of “grand challenges” confront society, especially, pressing needs in clean water supplies and renewable energy resources to mitigate anthropogenic climate change. Consequently, Mahanthappa's group seeks to develop new, functional polymeric materials that are integral components of devices for the generation, storage, and utilization of renewable energy. However, they are not simply interested in developing model materials on small scales – instead, they focus on scalable and sustainable syntheses of new materials that self-assemble into intricate nanoscale structures that manifest exciting bulk properties unachievable by current materials.

Mahanthappa differentiates himself from other polymer scientists because he was originally trained as a Ph.D. chemist with a background in the development of new transition metalbased catalysts for commodity polymer production. However, his scientific course was significantly altered by the three years he spent at the University of Minnesota as a postdoctoral research associate. During that period, he learned how to leverage his ability to synthesize new organic materials against my newfound skills in materials science characterization, including electron microscopy, X-ray scattering, and rheology.

Mahanthappa is just as committed to teaching as he is research, indicating that, "The central purpose of teaching for me is to foster intelligible and intelligent thought about chemistry, chemical engineering, and materials science that will enable students to independently apply acquired concepts to their disciplinary studies and to their everyday lives. My primary goal as an educator is to arm students with a firm understanding of fundamental science and engineering principles, so they can actively observe and evaluate the world around them. Ultimately, I hope to help students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels cultivate new insights and connections between what happens in the classroom, a research laboratory, and everyday experience."

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