Assistant Professor, Dr. Eric Davis, from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, recently received a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award. The National Science Foundation presents CAREER awards to support outstanding junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through research and education.
This five-year award will enable Dr. Davis and his research team to develop novel nanocomposite materials with functionality that can overcome practical hurdles for large-scale energy storage technologies, such as the redox flow battery. Inadequate ion selectivity in existing charged polymers utilized in redox flow batteries has motivated the incorporation of nanoparticles, a versatile approach for tuning a wide range of properties of polymers. However, the molecular-scale heterogeneity in these materials has confused structure-property relationships needed for the development of viable nanocomposite materials for flow batteries. To address this gap, the research component of this CAREER award focuses on advancing our understanding of fundamental polymer physics governing interactions between functionalized nanoparticles and charged polymers, and how these in turn alter resultant polymer architectures and bulk functional properties that are relevant for selective ion exchange. The design and synthesis of novel soft composite materials will be guided by these fundamental structure-property relationships to yield desirable molecular-scale interactions, thus enabling their functionality for energy storage applications. These findings and materials also have the potential to impact other critical modern technologies that utilize functional polymer membranes, such as water purification and energy delivery.
These research efforts are closely tied to educational initiatives that aim to engage and inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists. Undergraduate and graduate students contributing to this project will be exposed to advanced materials synthesis and characterization techniques, equipping them with the interdisciplinary skills needed to address tomorrow’s engineering challenges. Together with chemical engineering students at Clemson University, this award will develop and implement a STEM-based afterschool program, for students grades 6-8, that emphasizes scientific problem solving through the application of polymer science concepts to tackle hands-on tasks inspired by real-world challenges.