Chemical and Biological Engineering Spring 2018 Seminar – Caroline Szczepanski

Join the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Armour College of Engineering for a spring seminar on Wednesday, February 7 from 3:15–4:30 p.m. in Perlstein Hall Auditorium. The seminar, titled “Engineering Polymerization Reactions for Enhanced Surface Performance,” will feature Caroline Szczepanski, assistant research professor at Northwestern University.

Polymeric materials provide solutions to engineering problems across varying disciplines from medicine, electronics, and construction. Typically, one can try to predict the physical properties of polymers from the chemical structure of the individual units employed to build these macromolecules (i.e. flexibility, Tg). However, it is often the case that the performance of polymers and polymer networks for a given application relies heavily on the process by which individual units and different molecules are combined to form a larger macroscopic material. In this talk, I will show how precise tailoring and engineering of in situ polymer formation can be used to design bulk materials with synergistic properties beyond what is predicted by the chemistry of the building blocks employed. Focusing on the design of polymeric interfaces and coating materials, I show how the kinetics and thermodynamics of photo- and electro- polymerization processes can be used to enhance overall surface properties such as wettability and adhesion. Taking inspiration from nature, we exploit mechanical changes during polymerization and the formation of side-products such as O2 and H2 gas bubbles to drive the formation of three-dimensional surfaces reminiscent of well-known natural examples like gecko’s feet and rose petals.

Szczepanski’s research interests include: polymer engineering, materials science, nano-/micro-scale assembly in polymers, and the design of structured and functional interfaces. She received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Lafayette College (2009) and joined the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at the University of Colorado as a graduate student in 2009. Under the supervision of her advisor, Jeffrey Stansbury, she received her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering in 2014. Her thesis, titled “Design of Heterogeneous Network Structures through Polymerization-Induced Phase Separation,” focused on the use of phase separation as a tool to control nano- / micro-scale assembly in polymer network materials. After completing her Ph.D., Szczepanski worked as a post-doctoral researcher in the laboratory of Frédéric Guittard at the Université de Nice – Sophia Antipolis, in Nice, France. During her time there (2015–17), she studied the design of biomimetic, polymeric interfaces. In fall of 2017, Szczepanski joined the faculty at Northwestern University.