Imagine a lightweight uniform that will allow a firefighter to move around easily while fighting a blaze. How about a chemical-proof uniform to protect soldiers or civil defense workers?
There are many possible uses for polymers that are being developed by researchers such as Gregory N. Tew, assistant professor of polymer science and engineering at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass.
Tew was awarded a five-year, $500,000 grant under the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers program run by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He was one of 57 honored at a White House ceremony May 4.
Tew said in a telephone interview May 11 that the money will be used to do basic research on supermolecular polymers. These are polymers with embedded information enabling them to do multiple tasks. Some of the polymers might be used in membranes that filter out and neutralize specific chemicals. This type of polymer could in the future be used in protective clothing, he said.
``Take for example a firefighter. If they go into a house fire, there could be a lot of toxic chemicals, so they wear impenetrable clothing which is hot and heavy. We'd like something to lighten the load,'' he said.
Tew said that work also is under way on self-healing polymers, which can repair cracks. This can be used to strengthen materials, like adhesives.
``Self-healing is really the cutting edge of polymer research. It's not commercially available, but there is a big effort to push forward on the research,'' he said.
The White House is designed to recognize young professionals at the outset of their careers. Tew, 33, was nominated by the Department of Defense Army Research Office Young Investigators program.
Tew is a 1995 graduate of North Carolina State University. He earned a doctorate in materials chemistry from the University of Illinois-Urbana in 2000. He was also a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.