pans we cook in, the cars we drive and the toys we play with are made
possible by polymers, which have made living more convenient and affordable.
commonly known as plastics, are in the products that help us grow older
with ease and keep our children safe. Polymers are in our furniture and
our clothes. They help keep our food safe and our world connected.
In just a few decades, we have come to
consider the extraordinary properties of plastics as nothing out of the
the University of North Texas, Witold
Brostow, Ph.D., leads an international team —
faculty members, visiting professors, postdoctoral researchers and students
— in continuing
the polymeric evolution.
Under Brostow's direction, the researchers
at the UNT Laboratory of Advanced Polymers and Optimized Materials work
to discover new properties and uses for plastics.
primary function of LAPOM
is to find ways to improve the properties of existing materials or to
create new ones that are scratch-resistant, have low friction, survive
high temperatures and can sustain great impacts. As more car and airplane
parts are being replaced by plastics, the demand for such materials is
UNT's lab is one of the leading polymer science and engineering laboratories
in the world. And each January, as chair of the POLYCHAR (Polymer Characterization)
Scientific Committee, Brostow organizes a POLYCHAR World Forum at UNT
with participants from at least 40 countries.
Currently, some of the research in the lab is aimed
at improving polymer coatings —
including those used on cookware.
"Many people use Teflon-covered frying pans because
foods don't stick," says Brostow. "Yet, the surface is so easily scratched,
the pans have to be handled with extreme care."
The researchers hope to create a material that will
simultaneously have low friction (no stick) and high scratch resistance.
And although more work is needed, Brostow believes the results so far
are quite promising.
If successful, the new coating would mean you could
use a trusty metal spatula to flip your morning flapjacks without destroying
your pan while also having them slide right out onto the plate once they're
And while most cooks would laud such an advance in
morning fry-up technology, for the scientists it is a fairly complex task.
"The two properties are almost exclusive of each other,
which means we have to develop one product that is essentially two," Brostow
and more tests
team members look for the best molecular structure for the materials they
want to create to meet their requirements. Sometimes they create them
by chemical modification, and other times they create them by blending
commercial epoxies with other materials.
before they do either, a program of unique 3-D computer simulations is
used. Molecular structures are created on a computer by Ricardo Simoes,
a doctoral student in materials science from Portugal. The program allows
the researchers to specify the properties they want —
such as flexibility and hardness —
and then see what the structure for such a material might be.
The program then tests the computer-generated material,
applying forces to determine the amount of stress it can withstand before
breaking down —
and allowing the researchers to see how the material failed.
Once a material with a defined composition has been
selected, a number of experimental tests determine its usability. One
such test — the
scratch test —
employs a diamond blade hooked up to sensors that monitor the blade's
force and the material's behavior.
Bernard Bujard, a UNT graduate student, conducts most of LAPOM's
scratch tests and measures a material's viscoelasticity by recording its
ability to heal.
Developing materials with high healing capabilities
is important to LAPOM, not only
for the improved cookware coating, but also for the surface protection
of materials such as ceramics and metals.
Other research at the lab deals with polymeric materials
for automotive, telecommunication, biotechnology, medical, chemical and
agricultural applications. The work has been funded by Volvo, Ford, Texas
Instruments, Dow Chemical, Alcon, the National Science Foundation, NASA
research conducted at LAPOM
occurs in an atmosphere of teamwork and shared expertise, which is nurtured
by Brostow's broad interpretation of teaching.
"The lab is not only a place for research, but also
a classroom," he says. "Some people believe research and teaching are
opposing ideas, but this does not need to be the case. Students working
on research are learning how to solve problems and are acquiring the tools
of the trade. When they finish, they are able to apply those tools on
Brostow says the best part of his work is shaping students
as researchers. These include students in the Texas Academy of Mathematics
and Science, a two-year residential program that allows high school juniors
and seniors to finish high school while completing their first two years
Several of the TAMS students working in LAPOM
have received national honors, including Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships.
Their projects have ranged from developing better ways to attach prosthetics
to muscle tissue to creating intra-ocular lenses to improve vision.
All of the students working in LAPOM
are learning from the best. The international visiting professors, who
usually work in the lab for one- or two-year stints, are among the world's
finest polymer scientists.
Brostow himself is president of the International Council
of Materials Education, a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in
London, winner of the Fred A. Schwab International Award of the Society
of Plastics Engineers, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences
of Mexico and of the Union for Polymer Research in Berlin. In 1999 he
received an honorary doctorate from the Lvivska Politechnika National
University in Ukraine, only the second awarded by the school since World
As a Regents Professor of materials science at UNT,
he devotes at least half of his teaching workload to introductory-level
courses in addition to supervising graduate students.
Whether creating a new molecular structure for a polymeric
substance to improve modern life, or teaching the talented students at
UNT, Brostow is ensuring that Texas has a major scientific influence in
international visiting professors working in LAPOM
with Witold Brostow are:
Bratychak, Volodymyr Donchak and Olena Shyshchak
Lvivska Politechnika National University or Lviv Tech in Ukraine
National University of Mexico
University of Duisburg in Germany
Cracow University of Technology in Poland
Argentinian National University, Mar del Plata
University of Rouen in France
National Indian Institute of Technology
Technical University of Berlin