Faculty creates polymer lab

Claire Smith

Staff writer


Photo by Richard Thompson/The News

A new state-of-the art lab is giving Murray State students a unique opportunity.

In 2014, the polymer and material science track was introduced, which emphasizes the industrial and engineering aspects of chemistry.

Kevin Miller, a professor in the chemistry department, noticed that Murray State already “had a few instruments in place that were necessary to perform research in polymer science.”

Miller previously worked for Dow Chemical Company, where he noticed that the No. 1 employer of chemists were companies that specialize in polymer. He realized Murray State had the potential to create a program unique to the area and Kentucky.

“Over the past five years, Dr. Daniel Johnson and I have developed not only the Polymer and Materials Science Lab, but also a degree track in polymer and materials science,” Miller said.

“We are hoping to attract students who are interested in chemistry and engineering and prepare them for a career in the polymer industry or perhaps a graduate program in chemistry, polymer science or chemical engineering.”

The Polymer and Materials Science Lab was created in fall 2015 in a small space in Jones Hall where the chemistry department could house all its material instruments in one room.

“Dr. Harry Fannin, professor and former chair of our department, was instrumental in helping Dr. Johnson and I build the PMCL,” Miller said. “Dr. Fannin secured the laboratory space we needed and assisted with securing funds when necessary to supplement grants and funding we were fortunate enough to acquire externally.”

The lab also receives funding from the National Science Foundation. The foundation granted the department the Major Research Instrumentation Grant, which allowed it to purchase a dynamic mechanical analyzer. The instrument is used to analyze the mechanical properties of polymers and materials.

The lab is mostly for undergraduate students. There are a number of upper-level chemistry major and minors that are involved through their senior research project or honors thesis.

In spring 2020, the university will begin offering exclusive lab courses in polymer and materials science.

“Ultimately, we have a state-of-the-art facility that rivals industrial-scale materials science labs throughout the country,” Miller said. “To have such capabilities at an undergraduate institution is unheard of.”

Abigail Bratton, senior from Paducah, Kentucky, began working with Fannin on data analysis for one of her research projects after Miller asked if she would like to learn the synthesis side in addition to what she was working on.

“It’s really amazing to me that I am able to have the experience I have with all of the instrumentation found in this lab,” Bratton said. “It’s really impressive to see all of these instruments and the amount of research happening in this lab at a smaller school like Murray State that you would also see at a bigger school.”

The lab, including the new rheometer which is used to test additional mechanical behaviors of polymers and polymer solutions, has allowed her to become familiar with equipment that is used every day in the polymer field.

“Next year I will be attending graduate school to pursue a PhD in chemistry with a focus on polymers and materials science,” Bratton said. “Without this lab and the advisorship of Dr. Fannin and Dr. Miller, I would not be in the field I am today.”

If you are a student interested in the polymer and materials science track, contact Miller at kmiller38@murraystate.edu.