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2012 Journal of Polymer Science Innovation Award

The polymer science landscape has evolved dramatically over the past 50 years, advanced by innovative scientists working on the chemistry and physics of polymer systems. It is with this in mind that the Journal of Polymer Science recognizes Christopher Bielawski for his outstanding achievements in research innovation and his contributions to the field of polymer science.

The Journal of Polymer Science Innovation award was established in 2012 to celebrate significant research innovation and achievement in a polymer scientist under 40. In recognition of the award winner, a symposium is hosted in association with the Polymeric Materials Science and Engineering (PMSE) Division of the American Chemical Society (ACS) at the ACS Fall meeting, followed by an open reception.

Chris is currently a full Professor of Chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin. He received his Ph.D. from California Institute of Technology in 2003 working with Professor Robert H. Grubbs, 2005 Nobel Laureate. His dissertation focused on applying ring-opening metathesis polymerization (ROMP) toward the synthesis of advanced macromolecular architectures. Previously, he graduated Magna Cum Laude with Highest Distinction with his B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1997 and worked as an undergraduate researcher with Professor Jeffrey S. Moore. From 2003 – 2004, Chris was an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow at Caltech, mentored by Professor David A. Tirrell.

Chris is a pioneer in a number of exciting new fields in polymer science. He has established the research field of reversible, conjugated polymers with the recent discovery that difunctional N-heterocyclic carbenes (NHCs) can be polymerized with electrophiles to form organic and organometallic polymers. These polymers are the foundation for self-healing materials and may also provide an alternative to systems found in adaptive learning devices and reconfigurable circuits. His work on NHCs has also led to the development of novel polymerization catalysts that provide access to polymers with precisely defined structures. The catalysts contain redox-active NHCs and enable their ligated metals to be switched between various states of selectivity via changes in oxidation state. With these catalysts, monomers in complex mixtures can be selectively polymerized, producing polymers with precisely controlled microstructures. This innovation allows for well-defined, multi-block polymers, a long-desired result in living polymerization techniques.

Building on this concept of structural control, Chris has broken new ground through the use of graphene itself as a catalyst during the polymerization of a broad range of monomers. Well-dispersed, isotropic graphene-polymer composites are therefore formed, eliminating the need for extensive processing while leading to significantly improved electrical, thermal, and mechanical properties.

If that was not enough, Chris has also forged new avenues of research in the emerging area of mechanochemistry. With his typical ingenuity, Chris has shown that by attaching polymer chains to asymmetric molecules, new chemistry can be developed by the simple application of mechanical forces to these chains, coining the term “Unclicking the Click” in his recent 2011 Science paper. Further exploitation of this concept has allowed Chris to demonstrate that ligands can literally be pulled from polymerization catalysts by application of a mechanical force, activating the catalysts in the process. These force-activated catalysts have clear applications in self-healing materials that exhibit stimuli-responsive behavior.

Chris’ performance since joining the University of Texas at Austin in 2004 is awe-inspiring. He has published over 100 papers in top-tier polymer and chemistry journals, many of which have received extraordinary media attention. He has also been the recipient of a long list of prestigious single-investigator awards and has established a world-class research group of postdoctoral associates, graduate students, and undergraduate students. We are delighted to award him this inaugural Journal of Polymer Science Innovation Award.