The Macromolecules Innovation Institute (MII) has awarded seed funding to two research projects through its new Interdisciplinary Collaborative Seed Program (ICSP).

The ICSP is a one-year funding opportunity designed to support and enhance collaborations between MII research groups in different departments at Virginia Tech. Since emerging collaborations among faculty in different disciplines often originate from their students seeking help from their peers, this program is specifically designed to support the stipends of the talented student collaborators.

This year, the ICSP funding has been awarded to a team working to develop surface coatings that have the ability to neutralize germs, as well as a team advancing holographic methodologies for fabricating materials used in photonics for next-generation biosensors and solar cells. 

“The seed funding recipients demonstrate the type of interdisciplinary, collaborative research relationship needed to address complex goals and problems in macromolecular science and engineering,” said Robert B. Moore, professor of chemistry and director of MII. “We are proud to be able to facilitate their promising and ambitious work, and especially proud of the student contributions in these challenging projects.”

Since MII’s most successful collaborations are often grounded in  working relationships between its motivated students, this funding will be dedicated to supporting a student in each of the two collaborating groups. Each of the four students in the two teams selected in this inaugural competition will be designated as MII Interdisciplinary Graduate Collaborative (IGC) Fellows.

The ICSP supports MII’s mission to advance innovations in macromolecular science and engineering through synergistic interdisciplinary teams, as well as to provide state-of-the art education for students, who will be the future leaders in these fields.

Four people smile toward the camera, standing in front of a laboratory bench.
From left to right: Saeed Behzadinasab, William Ducker, Michael Schulz, and Tiffany Thompson. Reilly Henson for Virginia Tech.

Rapid inactivation of microbes using polymer-inorganic composites

Led by William Ducker, professor of chemical engineering, and Michael Schulz, assistant professor of chemistry. IGC Fellows are Saeed Behzadinasab, graduate student in chemical engineering, and Tiffany Thompson, graduate student in chemistry.

As highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, thorough and effective removal of pathogens from our surroundings is often critical. Surfaces can be disinfected by spray solutions such as alcohol and water or bleach, but this does not provide protection against pathogens that are deposited subsequently. The goal of this project is to develop new materials – metal oxides within a polymer matrix – that can be used to for a long-term coating that provides ongoing protection from microbes.

Four men look toward the camera, standing in a laboratory.
In the background (from left) are Wenge Huang and Zhen Xu. In the foreground, left to right, are Jiangtao Cheng and Guoliang Liu. Photo by Alex Parrish for Virginia Tech.

Electrowetting-controlled and hologram-guided colloidal particle assembly for versatile photonic structure development

Led by Jiangtao Cheng, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Guoliang Liu, associate professor of chemistry. IGC Fellows are Wenge Huang, graduate student in mechanical engineering, and Zhen Xu, graduate student in chemistry.

The field of photonics deals with the sophisticated ways in which light can be generated, modified, and used. It requires impeccably precise materials with carefully ordered structures over a wide range of length scales (such as lenses and metamaterials, for example) to study and manipulate light behaviors and properties. Those materials are not always easy to fabricate, and this can serve as a major challenge in photonics research. This research project endeavors to develop and demonstrate an advanced method for creating these materials using light in the form of holograms to guide the assembly of colloidal particles into uniquely designed patterns. The resulting materials will enable highly complex photonics tools with advanced functions for next-generation applications ranging from biochemical sensors to efficient solar cells.

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