Author: Rhonda Ward

Using Machine Learning to Identify Promising Polymer Membranes

Ying Li
Dr. Ying Li

Polymer membranes are commonly used in industry for the separation of gases like CO2 from flue gas and methane from natural gas. Over several decades, researchers have been studying various polymers to improve their permeability and usefulness but have hit a roadblock when it comes to testing them all in a quick and efficient manner. In a recent publication in Science Advances, UConn Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Ying Li,  University of Connecticut (UConn) Centennial Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Jeff McCutcheon; UConn researchers Lei Tao, Jinlong He; and researcher Jason Yang from California Institute of Technology have found an innovative new way to use machine learning (ML) to test and discover new polymer membranes.

Through investigation, the authors remark on the currently Edisonian approach to membrane design: “In the decades of technological development in the membrane science field, design of new membrane materials has been, and remains, a largely trial-and-error process, guided by experience and intuition. Current approaches generally involve tuning chemical groups to increase affinity and solubility towards the desired gas or incorporating greater free volume to increase overall diffusivity.”

As an alternative method to tedious experiments, computational models can be used to predict membrane performance. However, they are either too expensive, or low accuracy caused by the simplified approximations. To address this shortcoming, the team developed an accurate way to identify new, high-performing polymers using ML methods.

Using multiple fingerprint features and fixed chemical descriptors, the team used deep learning on a small dataset to link membrane chemistry to membrane performance. Traditionally, RF (Random Forest) models are known to work best on small data sets, but the team found that deep neural networks worked well because of the use of ensembling, which combines prediction from multiple models.

Jeffrey McCutcheon
Dr. Jeffrey McCutcheon

Further, the team found that the ML model was capable of discovering thousands of polymers with performance predicted to exceed the Robeson upper bound, which is a standard used to define the permeability and selectivity trade-off for polymer gas-separation membranes. In addition, discovered polymers with ultrahigh permeability would allow for industry to perform gas separations with higher throughput, while maintaining a high level of selectivity.

The researchers summarize, “Ultimately, we provide the membrane design community with many novel high-performance polymer candidates and key chemical features to consider when designing their molecular structures. Lessons from the workflow demonstrated in this study can likely serve as a guide for other materials discovery and design tasks, such as polymer membranes for desalination and water treatment, high-temperature fuel cells, and catalysis. With the continual improvement of ML techniques and an increase in computing power, we expect that ML-assisted design frameworks will only gain popularity and deliver increasingly substantial results in materials discovery for a wide range of applications.”

This project is funded in whole or in part with funds from the the Air Force Office of Scientific Research through the Air Force’s Young Investigator Research Program (FA9550-20-1-0183; program manager: M.-J. Pan); National Science Foundation (CMMI-1934829 and CAREER Award CMMI-2046751); 3M’s Non-Tenured Faculty Award; National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI), under Funding Opportunity Announcement Number DE-FOA-0001905 of U.S. Department of Energy.

Advanced Materials Characterization Graduate Certificate in Engineering Program

Advanced Materials Characterization Graduate Certificate Program

At the request of local industry, Institute of Materials Science Director Steven L. Suib created the Advanced Materials Characterization (AMC) Certificate Graduate Certificate in Engineering program. The program is designed to help researchers understand the latest techniques of identification and analysis of materials. The curriculum consists of four courses all developed by Dr. Suib: Structural Analysis, Microstructural and Morphological Analysis, Compositional Analyses, and Surface and Interfacial Analysis.

The online format of all the courses allows professionals to participate regardless of their schedule or location. The program includes one student from Ohio and another from Puerto Rico. At the conclusion of the spring 2022 semester, 3 students completed the certificate program. One student reported that they were impressed by the course format and extensive content, and they have implemented a variety of the techniques for their research and development position. AMC is another great example of IMS’s willingness to react to the needs of local industry.

For more information about the Advanced Materials Characterization Certificate Program, visit:

Polymer Program Announces 2021-2022 Awards

The IMS Polymer Program Awards committee has selected two awardees for the 2021 – 2022 academic year.

Chung Hao Polymer Program Award
Chung Hao Liu (center), winner of the Samuel J. Huang Graduate Student Research Award, with Polymer Program Director Kelly Burke (left) and advisor, Dr. Mu-Ping Nieh.

Chung-Hao Liu received the Samuel J. Huang Graduate Student Research Award.  This award recognizes a graduate student for outstanding research in the field of polymer science and engineering.  Chung-Hao completed is fourth year as a polymer PhD candidate under the guidance of Prof. Mu-Ping Nieh. He has been diligent in conducting advanced nanoscience research including materials characterization and designing polymer nanostructures. His efforts have resulted in two published journal articles, one currently in review, and contributions to many more. Chung-Hao has also made many collaborating efforts with other research groups and mentored undergraduate engineering students. Outside the lab, Chung-Hao has been an Society of Polymer Engineers, Storrs Chapter, committee member for 3 years, serving as both Vice President and President. His positive attitude and strong work ethics have made contributions to Prof. Nieh’s lab and the IMS research community.

Probodha Abeykoon Receives 2022 Polymer Program Award
Probodha Abeykoon (center), winner of the Stephanie H. Shaw Fellowship Scholar Award, with Polymer Program Director Kelly Burke and advisor, Dr. Douglas Adamson.

Probodha Abeykoon has been recognized as this year’s Stephanie H. Shaw Fellowship Scholar. This award is designated for a female student showing academic achievement and contributions outside of research.  Probodha has served as the leader of the Adamson Research Lab and has taken it upon herself to be the resident expert in several analytical techniques, such as four-point probe and thermal conductivity. She has two published papers and a third manuscript recently submitted. She has also presented her work at several ACS National Meetings. During the past 4 years Probodha has grown in into an excellent scientist and group leader.

The polymer program congratulates this year’s awardees with their tremendous efforts in both research and leadership in the IMS community.

2022 Polymer Poster Session

2022 Polymer Program Poster Session
IMS Polymer Program students display posters during 2022 Poster Session.

After two years of restrictions due to the COVID virus, the Polymer Program held its first in-person poster session since 2019. The event kicked off a 2-day open house for graduate student recruitment and also broke the long streak of virtual events.

Poster boards were dusted off and set up in the new Gant Complex Atrium, now called the “Light Court”, with a new collection of posters. Faculty and students expressed much gratification for the escape from the cyber world and return to the tradition of in-person discussions. Despite the masks, the smiles could be seen and the joy of the event could be felt by all.

A few faculty and students passing through the area felt the magnetic pull of the science talk and enthusiastically joined the fun. The event included 15 posters from polymer research laboratories, more than two dozen students, five visiting prospective students, and faculty from four departments. While the times change and technology evolves, it will be difficult to replace the glory of a traditional poster session.

2022 Polymer Program Poster Session
Students speaking with Polymer Program Director Kelly Burke during 2022 Poster Session.

Dr. Vahid Morovati to Join Polymer Program Faculty

Vahid Morovati
Dr. Vahid Morovati

Polymer Engineer, Dr. Vahid Morovati will join the University of Connecticut this fall with a joint appointment in both the IMS Polymer Program and the department of Civil & Environmental Engineering. Dr. Morovati completed his first Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at the Sharif University of Technology, Tehran, Iran. In 2020, he received a dual Ph.D. in Civil Engineering-Structural Engineering and Mechanical Engineering-Solid Mechanics from Michigan State University.

Vahid is currently a Postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Mechanics of Solids, Structures and Materials and the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin. His primary research interests lie in the multi-scale and micro-mechanical modeling of materials. As a part of his Ph.D. work, he developed a modular platform to study the nonlinear behavior of crosslinked elastomers. He is currently developing a computational framework to study the reliability of multi-layer thin films and the impacts of process-parameters on the mechanical properties of thin-film coatings. Vahid is also conducting research on the mechanics of multilayered van der Waals (vdW) materials to enhance their properties through strain engineering. He has published over 30 peer-reviewed journal papers and conference proceedings.

The Polymer Program faculty are excited to have Dr. Morovati as its newest member. His expertise in multi-scale modeling, the mechanical behavior of polymeric materials, and damage accumulation provides an excellent complement to the Program’s current faculty, and will expand the variety, scope, and value of the Polymer Program’s research.

IMS Faculty Members Named 2022 American Chemical Society PMSE Young Investigators

Kelly Burke-Sophie Wang
Drs. Kelly Burke (l) and Xueju “Sophie” Wang

Each year, the American Chemical Society’s Division of Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering (PMSE) honors young investigators through its PMSE Young Investigator Symposium which provides an opportunity to highlight the accomplishments of its honorees.  Honorees are chosen from early-career emerging leaders who have made significant contributions in their respective fields within polymer materials science and engineering. The invited honorees speak at a two-day “PMSE Young Investigator” symposium, held during the Fall National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

IMS faculty members Kelly Burke and Xueju “Sophie” Wang have been named PMSE Young Investigator Honorees for 2022 and will speak at the two-day “PMSE Young Investigator” symposium, to be held during the Fall National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Kelly Burke joined the UConn faculty in 2014 as Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering with an appointment in the Institute of Materials Science.  She has been recognized for her accomplishments, including the National Institute of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award and the prestigious NSF CAREER Award. She was appointed Director of the IMS Polymer Program in September 2021.

Sophie Wang joined the UConn faculty in 2020 as an Assistant Professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department with an appointment in the Institute of Materials Science.  She has consistently distinguished her research with numerous publications and as the recipient of the ASME Orr Early Career Award, and the NSF CAREER Award.  She is an associate faculty member of the IMS Polymer Program.

IMS congratulates both Kelly and Sophie on this accomplishment.

Polymer Program Alumnus Published in Royal Society of Chemistry

Ajinkya Deshmukh
Dr. Ajinkya Deshmukh

Ajinkya Deshmukh, IMS Polymer Program alumnus and graduate assistant in polymer science, is first author in a research paper recently published in Royal Society of Chemistry.

From the Abstract: Flexible polymers that can withstand temperature and electric field extremes are critical to advanced electrical and electronic systems. High thermal stability of polymers is generally achieved through the introduction of highly conjugated aromatic structures, that lower the bandgap and thus diminish the electric field endurance. Here, we demonstrate a class of flexible all-organic polyolefins by a strategic modular structure design to eliminate the impact of conjugation on bandgap. The one such designed polymer exhibits superior operational temperature and Tg of 244 °C without compromising the bandgap (∼5 eV), exhibiting significantly suppressed electrical conductivity when subjected to a high electric field. It reveals the highest ever recorded energy density of 6.5 J cc−1 at 200 °C, a 2× improvement over the best reported flexible dielectric polymers or polymer composites. The uncovered polymer design strategy introduces a platform for high performance dielectric development for extreme thermal and electric field conditions.

Read the full publication

Polymer Program Student Receives Henkel Internship

duttaPolymer Ph.D. student, Abhirup Dutta, received an internship with Henkel Corporation during the summer of 2021. He worked in product development R&D with their adhesives team performing synthesis, formulation, and application testing of novel isocyanate free polyurethane based reactive hot-melt adhesives for engineered wood applications.

Abhirup states the overall experience was a great exposure to research and development of industrial significant materials like adhesives and coatings. It provided the opportunity to apply fundamentals of polymer chemistry to materials development while meeting product and cost requirements. This experience helped him better prepare for a materials/polymer scientist role in industry.

Henkel, an international chemical corporation, has offered internships and employment of many UConn alumni in past years. While they have a production plant and offices in Connecticut, Abhirup was in the Bridgewater, NJ facility.

Abhirup found the internship on the Handshake job portal, managed by UConn’s Center for Career Development.

Polymer Program Student Selected for 100Plus Scholarship

Polymer Program Graduate Student John ToribioPolymer Program student, John M. Toribio was awarded this year’s Student Scholarship from 100Plus, a US based organization that provides remote patient monitoring for chronic patients. Student applicants needed to submit a presentation answering the question, “How will remote patient monitoring technology advance in the future to provide better health for the patients?” John received a $2,000 prize and his presentation can be found on the 100Plus Website at the following link:

John is a 2nd year Chemistry Ph.D. student in the Sotzing Research Group working on the development of wearable electronic devices for health applications as well as synthesis and applications of cannabinoid polymers.

Dr. Kelly Burke Appointed Director of IMS Polymer Program

Dr. Kelly BurkeDr. Kelly Burke has been appointed Director of the IMS Polymer Program. She joined the UConn faculty in 2014 as Assistant Professor Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering with an appointment in the Institute of Materials Science. Since joining the faculty, she has received numerous grants and awards and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2021.

“Kelly brings a lot of new ideas, energy, and support for this program,” Dr. Steven Suib, Director of IMS, noted in announcing the appointment. She succeeds Dr. Luyi Sun in the position.