Professor Rebekka Klausen of Johns Hopkins University is supported by the Macromolecular, Supramolecular, and Nanochemistry (MSN) program of the Division of Chemistry to develop a chemical strategy that can turn a hydrophobic (water-hating) polymer into a hydrophilic (water-loving) polymer. This method enables the preparation of structures that contain both hydrophobic and hydrophilic segments in precisely controlled amounts and sequences. Polymers are versatile commodity chemicals commonly found in plastics. The ability to control and change the solvent compatibility of a given plastic has profound implications for its applications. Fundamental insights arising from this project include novel synthetic methods yielding well-defined functional polymers and insights into the relationship of chemical structure and water solubility. The materials prepared under this project are useful in applications in which hydrophobic and hydrophilic materials are combined, such as the efficient recovery of crude oil from oil spills in marine environments or as durable and solvent-resistant adhesives. This research program provides valuable training to undergraduate and graduate students in the preparation and design of industrially relevant materials and supports the integration of academic and industrial scientific relationships through an educational initiative that brings professional chemists to a university setting to discuss their current research and career trajectories. Additional aspects of the educational initiative focus on the recruitment and retention of talented students from diverse backgrounds into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
The goal of this research is to control the hydrophobicity of organic polymers by replacing one or more carbon-carbon (CC) bonds with the isosteric, isoelectronic, and polar boron-nitrogen (BN) bond. A novel azaborine vinyl monomer is prepared and its homo- and copolymerization is studied. Reflecting the central role of organoborane chemistry in organic synthesis, postpolymerization functionalization converts the pendant C-B bond to a C-OH bond. In the course of this work, fundamental research into the reactive intermediate chemistry of unconventional aromatic structures is pursued, novel functional polyolefins are prepared, and structure-dependent properties are elucidated. The methods to be used include organic synthesis, polymerization chemistry, and tools for the characterization of physical properties. The project integrates research and educational endeavors by supporting: (1) a career and professional development seminar series in Baltimore, (2) promoting training and learning in industrially-relevant polymer science, and (3) broadening the participation of underrepresented groups through a summer undergraduate research stipend.