Innovators in Materials Science | AIChE

Innovators in Materials Science

Last updated January 11, 2017

Creating new products that enhance lives

Chemical engineers, with their combined training in chemistry and engineering, are able to take an existing substance and produce an improved material that demonstrates desirable properties and capabilities. This is accomplished by:

  • Modifying the chemical composition,
  • Altering the physical makeup, and
  • Developing new processing methods.

The individuals profiled here have been selected to showcase the many ways in which chemical engineers use their unique expertise to solve complex materials-related problems.

R. Byron Bird

The numerous contributions of R. Byron Bird over the past several decades have been responsible for rapid advances in polymer processing. Through his pioneering work Bird has provided critical insight into the behavior of non-Newtonian fluids. These fluids, most notably polymers, are substances whose ability to flow changes as external forces are applied to them. Bird helped characterize flow behavior in a measurable way and engineered systems that would effectively turn polymers into finished plastic products of varying complexity.

A professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, Bird has authored numerous articles and books, including Molecular Theory of Gases and Liquids (1954) and Dynamics of Polymeric Liquids (published in 1977 and revised in 1987). He holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Donald Paul

The innovative work of Donald Paul has helped advance the now widely used practice of blending polymers. Combining one or more polymers with performance-enhancing fillers, additives, and reinforcing agents results in plastics with more desirable characteristics. Through his work as both the director of the Center for Polymer Research at the University of Texas−Austin and the director of the Texas Materials Institute, Paul has effectively applied thermodynamics principles to better understand how polymer mixtures behave.

In addition to furthering the fundamental understanding of the science behind polymer processing, Paul’s work has led to numerous technological breakthroughs. In 2005 he was awarded the Herman F. Mark Polymer Chemistry Award from the American Chemical Society and the Alan S. Michaels Award for Innovation in Membrane Science and Technology from the North American Membrane Society. Paul is the Ernest Cockrell, Sr., Chair in Engineering at the University of Texas. He holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Robert Langer

The development of specialized plastics suitable for highly demanding biomedical applications has been one of Robert Langer’s primary areas of expertise. Among his many pioneering breakthroughs was the creation of ingenious structural scaffolds made from biocompatible materials, which enable tissue growth in biomedical applications.

A trailblazer in biomaterials, Langer did pioneering work on novel plastics that can be embedded with therapeutic substances to help treat various types of cancer. More recently, his work has focused on the development of remotely controlled microchips able to control drug delivery more precisely within the human body.

Langer holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is one of 13 Institute Professors. During his prolific career he has authored more than 940 research papers and 13 books, with over 800 invited lectures, 560 patents issued or pending, and more than 150 awards to his credit.