Nanoscale plastics measure just a billionth of a meter long, so how do you test them? You blow a bubble, said Gregory McKenna, who won the Society of Plastics Engineers' International Award at SPE-Antec 2004.
In a May 19 plenary speech, McKenna took his audience into the exotic world of nanotechnology. His topic: ``Mechanics and physics of polymers from the macroscopic to the nanoscale.''
Recognized for his work in polymer physics and rheology, McKenna is head of the Department of Chemisty at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. McKenna holds the John B. Bradford Chair at Texas Tech.
Brookfield, Conn.-based SPE handed out awards to McKenna and other plastics industry leaders during SPE-Antec, held May 16-20 in Chicago.
McKenna explained how his education and work experience combined to get him interested in physics and rheology, the measurement of polymer flow and elasticity. He earned a bachelor's degree in engineering mechanics - with a minor in materials, including plastics - from the U.S. Air Force Academy. He went on to study composite materials at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then earned his doctorate in materials science and engineering, focusing on biomedical applications, from the University of Utah.
He focused on rheology while working at the National Bureau of Standards and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. When the government sent him to France for more study, he became interested in the physics of plastics.
Much of McKenna's work has centered on the glass-transition phase, the point when an amorphous polymer moves from a rubbery condition to a hard and relatively brittle state. In his speech, he described how researchers test stresses over time in those ``glassy polymers,'' including relaxation and deformation.
There was a lot of interest in nanotechnology during SPE-Antec.
McKenna talked about some of his latest research: determining the viscoelasticity of polyvinyl acetate at the nanoscale size. Researchers dip a tube in the material, and inflate it into a bubble using a spin-coating technique, creating a very thin film. Then, they use an atomic force microscope to measure the stresses in the bubble.
McKenna said the method is a noncontact way to use the atomic microscope. Other researchers have tried to put the microscope directly into the nanomaterials, which is difficult, he said. He also outlined new tests to put nanospheres of tiny gold particles into very thin polystyrene films.
SPE gave McKenna a $5,000 honorarium and a gold medal for the International Award.
Other winners received a $2,500 honorarium and an award. They are:
* Chan Chung, professor emeritus and research professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of Troy, N.Y., who earned the Engineering/Technology Award. He is widely recognized in the area of extrusion screw design as well as polymer rheology and chemistry. Chung's screw-design patents often are cited as references in new patent applications, according to SPE.
* Steven Driscoll, a professor in the Department of Plastics Engineering at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, picked up the Education Award. In a career that started at Lowell in 1968, he has taught more than 3,000 students from around the world about topics such as polymeric materials and engineering, modifiers and additives, mechanical properties of polymers and the commercial development and marketing of plastic products and services.
Driscoll is a strong supporter of the plastics industry's global reach. During eight trips to India, including two stints as a United Nations Consulting Fellow, he presented nearly 200 talks on plastics.
* Hatsuo Ishida, a professor of macromolecular science and engineering at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, won the Research Award. Ishida is a pioneer of the molecular characterization of composite interfaces. He also developed a new class of polymers, called polybenzoxazines.
He is founder and editor-in-chief of the journal Composite Interfaces. He also founded the International Conference on Composite Interfaces. SPE also gave out two product awards.
The Consumer Product Award went to Raphael Schlanger for the design and development of the Topolino bicycle wheel. Judges liked the construction process used to transform the composite spokes and composite hub into a finished wheel.
John Petschel won the Industrial Product Award for the Anabranch liquids-handling system, a patented measuring system for the safe transfer of liquid from a storage container to the point of use.