(6hp) Nanostructural Engineering Towards on-Demand Manipulation of Polymers and Their Derivatives Functionality

Qiang, Z., Northwestern University
Research Interests: Polymers self-assembly has emerged as leading patterning technique due to its ability to generate various structures with spontaneous nanoscale order, but the implementation of these organized features into energy-related applications is still largely unexplored. My research program will focus at bridging the polymer chemistry and assembly physics with functional inorganic materials synthesis as well as employing advanced techniques for understanding materials structure-property relationships through in-situ characterizations. We aim to address many grand challenges in sustainable chemistry such as the lack of efficient routes for low-dimensional materials synthesis, transfer and doping at large-scale for their practical applications and elucidating the mechanism of materials performance decaying upon external stimuli. With integrating fundamental mechanistic studies with development of scalable nanomanufacturing platforms, we will provide new engineering solutions for advanced materials design, syntheses and characterizations with precise nanoscale control.

Postdoctoral Project:

1) Understanding polymer assembly dynamics by in-situ visualization its structural evolution using super-resolution microscopy; 2) Simultaneous in-film polymer chemistry with self-assembly physics for hierarchical nanopatterns. Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Northwestern University (Advisor: Professor Muzhou Wang).

PhD Dissertation:

A generalized method for aligning functional block copolymers and blends thin film and large-scale roll-to-roll fabrication of ordered porous materials for energy storage applications. Department of Polymer Engineering, University of Akron (Advisors: Professor Bryan D. Vogt and Professor. Kevin A. Cavicchi)

Research Experience: My research focuses on the development of new methodologies of engineering nanostructured polymeric materials towards improved material properties, especially for energy storage applications, from understanding their fundamental assembly dynamics using advanced in-situ characterization techniques including super-resolution microscopy and scattering measurements.

During my PhD research, I demonstrated a generalizable method (solvent vapor annealing with shear, SVA-S) for aligning block copolymers (BCPs) and their blend thin films that enables functional nanopatterns upon proper selection BCPs and functional precursors. Using this approach, we can generate arbitrary line based nanofeatures such as rhombic arrays and porous carbon films with anisotropic electrical conductivity. Additionally, I developed a large-scale fabrication (> kg) methodology for a wide variety of functional mesoporous materials through a continuous roll-to-roll processing, which is compatible with the traditional evaporation-induced self-assembly process. The ability to generate large quantities of functional materials including highly doped mesoporous carbons and ordered porous carbon/nanoparticle composites using low-cost raw materials has enabled high-performance devices for sustainable energy storage.

In my postdoctoral research, I demonstrated a photo-controlled in-film polymerization process for synthesizing homopolymers in self-assembled BCP films, which successfully integrates the polymer chemistry with self-assembly physics. The region and kinetics of in-film polymerization can be modulated by the location and power of irradiation using photomasks for obtaining distinct morphologies on one substrate, providing a new platform for hierarchically manipulating nanopatterns from the self-assembled BCP thin film. Additionally, I developed a platform multifunctional photoswitchable fluorophores for its incorporation into a super-resolution microscopy experiment, which greatly streamlines labeling strategies into a single step, where a small quantity is mixed with standard monomers and copolymerized to yield the functionalized material with no further purification. This allows the in-situ nanoscale imaging of polymer self-assembly upon external stimuli such as solvent-swollen for revealing assembly kinetics and defects annihilation. This work holds the potential as an imaging platform for promoting widespread adoption of super-resolution microscopy in the polymer community.

Future Research Directions: As an independent investigator, I will work at the interface of self-assembled polymers, low-dimensional functional materials and their applications for renewable energy storage. Initial investigations in my laboratory will compose of three different projects/aims (1) scalable synthesis of 2D materials through polymer templating; (2) in-operando characterizing polymer nanostructure evolution under external stimuli, and (3) on-demand, on-surface polymer synthesis and pattern formation with dynamic linkages. These proposed works will require a multidisciplinary approach, combining my experience in nanostructure engineering, large-scale roll-to-roll processing, electrochemical energy storage and advanced characterization with fluorophore-based techniques.

Mentoring Experience: During my Ph.D. and postdoc studies, I have mentored 4 graduate students, 1 undergraduate student, 1 REU student, 1 high school teacher and 1 high school student on many different projects including materials synthesis, novel rapid microwave processing and mechanical characterizations of elastomeric materials. The experience and relationship with these mentee from diverse research/education backgrounds not only builds up my communication and teaching skills with students at different levels, but also helps me understand how to design a research project that fits with different backgrounds. These lead to the fact that 7 out of 8 mentees have co-authored publications with me after finishing up their projects.

Teaching Interests: In engineering education, I believe the goal as a teacher is to not only provide fundamental knowledges/equations, but more importantly is to educate them with strategies for problem-solving that can be extended to the future. Although the subjects and teaching styles can be diverse, the key attributes in my teaching philosophies include caring about students, teaching with enthusiasm and energy and keeping an open mind with alternative methods, solutions and answers. My education background in polymer engineering enables me to teach any core courses in chemical engineering related to thermodynamics, reaction kinetics and advanced characterizing techniques, Besides, my postdoc experience in Chemical Engineering at Northwestern makes me interested in teaching any existing class in the department, as well as design new classes that provides connections between polymers and energy storages.

Grant Writing Experiences: 1) ACS Petroleum Research Fund (Awarded for $110,000); 2) National Science Foundation; 3) Academic Year Undergraduate Research Grants, Northwestern University (Awarded)

Selected Awards and Honors: 1) Selected as PMSE Future Faculty Scholars, ACS, 2018; 2) Excellence in Graduate Polymer Research, ACS, 2017; 3) Polymer Physics Best Poster Prize, APS, 2016; 4) Finalist, Frank J. Padden Jr. Award for Excellence in Polymer Physics Graduate Research, APS, 2015

Selective Publication Lists: (29 published, 2 under revision, 2 in preparation)

Z. Qiang, S. Akolawala and M. Wang “Simultaneous in-film polymer synthesis and self-assembly for hierarchical nanopatterns” ACS Macro Letters, 2018, 7, 566-571

Z. Qiang, Y. Xia, X. Xia and BD. Vogt “Generalized synthesis of a family of highly heteroatom-doped ordered mesoporous carbons” Chemistry of Materials, 2017, 29 (23), 10178-10186

Z. Qiang, Y. Chen, Y. Xia, W. Liang, Y. Zhu and BD. Vogt “Ultra-long cycle life, low-cost room temperature sodium-sulfur batteries enabled by highly doped (N, S) nanoporous carbons” Nano Energy, 2017, 32, 59-66

Z. Qiang, X, Liu, F. Zou, KA. Cavicchi, Y. Zhu and BD. Vogt “Bimodal porous carbon-silica nanocomposites for low-cost, high rate, long life-time Li-ion batteries” Journal of Physical Chemistry C, 2017, 121 (31), 16702-16709

Z. Qiang, Y. Chen, B. Gurkan, Y. Guo, M. Cakmak, KA. Cavicchi, Y. Zhu and BD. Vogt “Cooperatively assembled, nitrogen-doped, ordered mesoporous carbon/iron oxide nanocomposites for low-cost, long cycle life sodium ion batteries” Carbon, 2017, 116, 286-293

Z. Qiang, L. Zhang, GE. Stein, KA. Cavicchi and BD. Vogt “Unidirectional alignment of block copolymer films induced by expansion of a permeable elastomer during solvent vapor annealing” Macromolecules, 2014, 47(3), 1109-1116

Z. Qiang, M. Wadley, KA. Cavicchi and BD. Vogt “Facile non-lithographic route to sub-10 nm, highly aligned silica nanopatterns using unidirectionally aligned polystyrene-block-polydimethylsiloxane films” Journal of Polymer Science Part B: Polymer Physics 2015, 53(15), 1058-1064

Z. Qiang, Y. Guo, H. Liu, SZD. Cheng, M. Cakmak, KA. Cavicchi and BD. Vogt “Large scale roll-to-roll fabrication of mesoporous materials” ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 2015, 7(7), 4306-4310

Z. Qiang, Y. Zhang, Y. Wang, S. Bhaway, KA. Cavicchi and BD. Vogt “Highly aligned, large pore ordered mesoporous carbon film by solvent vapor annealing” Carbon, 2015, 82, 51-59

Z. Qiang, Y. Zhang, JA. Groff, KA. Cavicchi and BD. Vogt “A generalized method for alignment of block copolymer films: solvent vapor annealing with soft shear” Soft Matter, 2014 10(32), 6068-6076

S. Bhaway, Z. Qiang, Y. Xia, X. Xia, B. Lee, KG. Yager, L. Zhang, K. Kisslinger, Y. Chen, K, Liu, Y. Zhu and BD. Vogt “Operando grazing incidence small angle X-ray scattering/X-ray diffraction of modeled ordered mesoporous lithium-ion batteries anodes” ACS Nano, 2017, 11(2), 1443-1454

P. Cao, B. Li, T. Hong, J. Townsend, Z. Qiang, K. Xing, K.D. Vogiatzis, Y. Wang, J. Mays, A.P. Sokolov and T. Saito “Super-stretchable, self-healing polymeric elastomers with tunable properties” Advanced Functional Materials, 2018, 1800741

K. Staggs, Z. Qiang, K. Madathil, C. Gregson, Y. Xia, BD. Vogt and D. Nielsen “High efficiency and facile butanol recovery with magnetically responsive micro/mesoporous carbon adsorbents” ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering 2017, 5(1), 885-894

G. Deng, Y. Zhang, C. Ye, Z. Qiang, GE. Stein, KA. Cavicchi and BD. Vogt “Bicontinuous mesoporous carbon thin film via an order-order transition” Chemical Communication, 2014, 50,12684-12687

Book Chapters

BD. Vogt, Z. Qiang, J. Xue, G. Deng, A. Karim and KA. Cavicchi “Structural control in block copolymer templated nanoporous carbon films” in Polymer Precursor Derived Carbon, 2014, ACS Symposium Series, Vol. 1173, Chapter 3, 35-60.