Haifeng Gao receives research award from the Department of Army


Haifeng Gao , cSEND Faculty, and Assistant Professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame, was recently awarded a $150,000 research award from the Chemical Sciences Division of the Department of Army’s Research Office. The research award will begin this summer and can be used for three years of research.

To be considered for the award, Gao submitted a proposal titled, “Regulating inter-polymer chain reaction in nanospace: an efficient method to produce hyperbranched polymer with uniform structure.” Over 200 million tons of synthetic polymers are produced annually around the world. All synthetic polymers carry distributions on molecular weights, chemical compositions, and architectures, so developing robust synthetic methods to accurately control polymer structures is critical for inventing new polymer materials.

Hyperbranched polymers with tree-like shapes and multiple chain ends have promising applications in specialty additives, microelectronics, biomedicines and other materials. However, when synthesizing hyperbranched polymers, there is a lack of control in the inter-polymer chain reactions, which significantly limits the function of the polymer materials. Gao will use this research funding to develop a reliable synthetic method to produce hyperbranched polymers with high molecular weight and uniform structure by using discrete confined space to segregate polymer-polymer reactions within each confined nanospace.

“The new concept of utilizing a confined environment to regulate polymer-polymer reactions is expected to stimulate broad interest on the structural control of polymers with complex architectures that are challenging to achieve in bulk or solution polymerization processes,” Gao said in his proposal.

Successfully controlling polymer structures has many useful applications for the Army. Polymer materials are used in many pieces of military equipment, such as sensors on detecting explosives and toxins, which can help protect the lives of soldiers and expand their sensing capabilities in the field.