Akron, Ohio — The Cleveland Cavaliers' NBA title run wasn't the only big happening in northeast Ohio in June. The region also hosted almost 600 polymer researchers at an event at the University of Akron.
Researchers from almost 80 colleges and universities gathered at the 12th National Graduate Research Polymer Conference, June 19-22 at UA in Akron. The event was hosted by UA's College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, which ranks as the largest in the United States with 34 faculty members and almost 350 students in masters and PhD programs.
“Our program is very healthy as far as our number of students,” college dean Eric Amis said in a June 20 interview at the conference. “We're helped by the size of the polymer industry here in Ohio. We're doing a lot of work in polymer processing, coatings and green chemistry.”
“Our master's program really has grown and is fairly robust,” he added. “We've been getting a lot of students from China. After two years, 75 percent of them stay to get their PhD, either here in Akron or somewhere else in the U.S.”
The biannual conference — which is held at different locations around the country — is “a showcase event” for polymer research, according to Matthew Becker, an associate dean and professor in the polymer program.
Becker added that Akron is “a legacy site for polymers” and that the Ohio region “is strong — and the job market in polymers in general is strong as well.”
Polymer research work being done at Akron is focused on both new and existing materials, according to Amis, including cross-linked nanotech additives, new fillers for improved aesthetics and new biomaterials and substrates for use in tissue engineering, substrates and biomedical applications.
Amis added that it's important for the polymers program not to lose sight of the importance of working with the industry.
“I always say to my colleagues that I can hire faculty and grow programs to where government funding is going to go, but I also want to know where the industry is going,” he explained. “There has to be a balance.”
Dozens of academic papers and posters were presented at the conference. These included a polyester films paper from UA's Elaheh Chamsaz, a paper on polyester urea used in rotator cuff repair from UA's Erin Childers and a paper on polymer nanocomposite foams from Harish Kumar of the University of Connecticut.
Several plastics-related firms — including A. Schulman, Eastman Chemical, Lubrizol, Omnova, BASF, Covestro and Milliken — had displays at a job fair at the conference, hoping to attract top academic talent.
“We want to see what's out there and discuss what's being worked on,” said Steve Blazey, a research and development engineer with Fairlawn, Ohio-based Schulman. “Sometimes we can get tied up with day to day business, so it's important to see where research is being focused.”
One of the students attending the event was Marcus Smith, an Ohio native now in his third year of graduate school at Georgia Tech. At the UA conference, Smith presented a paper on polymer films for optical systems.
Smith already has a civilian job lined up with the U.S. Air Force, but said he wanted to be at the conference “to get more exposure in the polymer field.”