BY EMILY GRAHAM '19
This summer I participated in a 10-week Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden Colorado. Funded by the National Science Foundation, REU programs provide opportunities for undergraduate researchers at universities across the world. The program I participated in focused on developing polymers in the fields of chemistry and chemical engineering. I was assigned to the Boyes laboratory where I worked closely with a graduate student to complete a project during my time there.
We created surface coatings using aramid brushes which imitate Kevlar to create thermally durable and self-healing coatings. We basically made coatings that cannot be permanently damaged. For example, if you coated a table with the coatings we were developing and then scratched it with a knife, it would heal itself. My research focused on the characterization of the polymer brushes to determine the effect of different functional side chains on growth rate, molecular weight and molecular weight distribution. The expectation is that these surface coatings will serve an industrial purpose by creating heat and scratch resistant surfaces with very little surficial modification. We also hope to develop these coatings for sustainable purposes.
These coatings have the potential to be used in reverse osmosis filters, producing filtration devices that would not break down over time.
Along with spending time in the lab, I was also given the opportunity to explore the greater Denver area including the Rocky Mountains and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, as well as build a network through my peers in the program. I’m an avid hiker and rock-climber, so this opportunity ensured that I had a fun, as well as productive, summer.
In addition to having a successful summer growing polymer brushes, I gained insight on the graduate school experience in Colorado and in general and had an opportunity to further determine the direction of research I hope to pursue both at Mount Holyoke College and after graduation.